Last night, I watched an episode of "CSI" in which a man went berserk inside an airliner and was stomped to death by fearful and angry passengers. An investigation showed that the amount of force the passengers used and where they used it was beyond what was necessary to ensure everyone's safety. Some of the medical examiners wanted the police to prosecute the passengers for murder. Others empathized with the passengers and said that almost anyone would have succumbed to the same mob fear and fury under the same circumstances and should not be punished for it.
I can see merit to both views. On the one hand, I agree that the passengers used excessive force to neuralize the threat to their lives and safety and that we, as a society, do not want to condone and encourage mob violence. On the other hand, I believe that it is basic human nature to get swept away by violent emotion and action under extreme conditions and that I would have likely acted the same way despite my ivory-tower idealism.
However, the chief examiner, well-played by William Peterson, suggested that if just one of the passengers had taken the trouble to notice the man's warning signs of distress and tried to help him early on, he might never have gone crazy, the airliner and its occupants might never have been placed in jeopardy, and a precious human life could have been preserved.
Isn't it sad that we all-too-often fail to practice that vital "ounce of prevention"? How many tragedies might we be able to avoid if we were more mindful of our circumstances before they got out-of-hand and we were more willing to act appropriately? How many people's lives might we save and how much suffering might we prevent if we reached out to troubled and desperate people with compassion before they acted out?
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