Commentary on current events, politics, government, and popular culture from John Sheirer, author of the book, Make Common Sense Common Again.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Celebrating the Helpers

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, many people used social media to share a quote from Mr. Rogers in an effort find comfort as the devastating and confusing events unfolded:

"When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."

These words exemplify a simple but profound way of looking at the world: We're either helping or we're not helping. The vast majority of people want to help, of course, and many wonderful helpers stepped up after the bombing.

Our public servants, especially Boston area police, many of whom had worked straight through the night before, reacted immediately to protect people, not knowing if more bombs would explode and any moment. (Several days later, one officer lost his life and another was seriously wounded in pursuit of the suspects.) Many everyday citizens rushed to offer any help they could immediately after the explosions. With their ears still ringing from the blast, dozens of runners, race observers, and bystanders ran to the wounded, often reacting before they considered their own safety. Ambulances filled with emergency workers flooded the scene before the smoke had even cleared.

To the brave officers and citizens and medical personnel at the Boylston Street finish line and beyond, you helped.

Governor Deval Patrick brought a calm voice and level head as he shared whatever scant information was available. The local, state, and national officials investigating the crime also kept us as informed as they could when we hungered for any news about the terrible events. President Barack Obama addressed the nation several times in the subsequent days and brought a combination of reassurance, resolve, and compassion to help us deal with an event that seemed devoid of reason.

To the president, the governor, all the officials who faced the burden of publically making sense of this terrible crime, you helped.

Helpers also emerged in some unexpected ways.

Red Sox star David Ortiz took to the Fenway Park microphone and dropped the F-bomb in rallying the crowd. While public profanity is usually nothing to celebrate, the slugger captured the much-hyped resilience of the Boston spirit and personified the rich strength of the city's immigrant diversity. Julius Genachowski, chair of the sometimes touchy Federal Communications Commission, responded to Ortiz's salty language with a surprising tweet: "David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today's Red Sox game. I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston."

To Big Papi and Big 'Chowski--you both helped.

We heard the term "shelter in place" many times during the daylong search for the second suspect, but I'm happy that someone invented such a nurturing term to take the place of "stay the hell inside." After the capture, someone uploaded a photo of the boat where the suspect hid, adding the caption, "worst getaway vehicle ever."

To the people who coined the unexpected term and produced the unexpected laugh, you helped.

Unfortunately, a loud minority of nonhelpers got involved as well. Some media outlets pumped out unsubstantiated reports of a Saudi suspect who was actually a victim of the bombings. The rest of the corporate repeated those false claims, and then compounded their errors by later announcing a premature arrest with salacious claims of a "dark-skinned" suspect.

Some bigoted pundits reacted to the bombings by condemning all Muslims as terrorists, one even calling for all Muslims to be killed. Other crazies took to their self-published online shows to declare that the bombing was staged as a "false flag" by a corrupt government bent on power and control. One famously insane pundit actually went back to the clearly debunked Saudi suspect story and demanded President Obama's impeachment for hiding the truth.

Some members of Congress politicized the bombing, linking it to their opposition to immigration, calling for increased profiling of Muslims, even recommending torture for the captured suspect, as if America hasn't learned the previous decade's painful lesson that torture is immoral and ineffective.

To the rush-to-misjudgment media, to the reality-impaired pundits, to the confused members of Congress, you definitely didn't help.

Overall, the good news is that we saw far more helpers than nonhelpers after the bombing, people who spanned a range from everyday citizens all the way to the highest levels of government. Mr. Rogers would be happy to have you in our neighborhood.


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