Leslie Cannold: Writer, Commentator, Ethicist, Researcher
ARTICLES

Deadly price of decency

WE still don’t know exactly what sparked the terrible flurry of violence that cost David Hookes his life.

But if early reports are correct, it appears he may have been defending the girlfriend of one of his colleagues — a woman who had been abused or slighted by someone in another group at the Beaconsfield Hotel.

If this is true, David Hookes lost his life because he was defending another’s honour.

Acting, you might say, like a good Samaritan.

The parable of the good Samaritan is usually seen as a biblical lesson on the virtue of helping strangers. In fact, the tale – about a Samaritan who overlooks the longstanding and deeply felt enmity between Samaritans and Israelites to help a Jew in need – contends that earning God’s love requires us not just to put ourselves out for strangers, but also for mortal foes. But what about loving yourself, or more precisely, being able to look at yourself in the mirror? What about making the world the kind of place that you, and those you care about, want to live in: a place not just to survive, but to thrive?

For some, good Samaritans are fools: naive suckers or idiots lacking discretion who will surely, given enough time, get themselves hurt or killed.

But I see the Samaritan as righteous, even heroic.

To understand why, you need only picture a world in which neither the concept nor reality of the good Samaritan exists. Sadly, this exercise doesn’t require imagination, just some historical recollection.

In 1964, Kitty Genovese, a waitress in her late 20s, was murdered on the streets of a working-class suburb of Queens while 38 of her neighbours listened, looked on, and even discussed among themselves the mayhem below, but did nothing to help – not even phone the police. The attack lasted for more than 30 minutes, the assailant fleeing and returning three times – feeling unsatisfied, he later told the court, that he had not finished what he set out to do. During the final phase, the attacker used the knife with which he’d been stabbing Genovese to cut off her bra and underwear so he could rape her.

Few of Genovese’s neighbours expressed regret for their inaction; instead, they justified it by an unwillingness to “get involved”. Shocked, in pain and dazed by blood loss, one can only imagine what Kitty Genovese felt in the final moments of her life. “Alone” must surely have been high on the list.

Genovese’s death offered all New Yorkers a glimpse of what life would become – what they would become – in a world without the non-specific caring and general decency of good Samaritans. Because when we give to another person, not because they are our child or a friend, and not because we expect something back, but because they need our help, we make that person live and matter in our eyes.

Not only do we dignify them in this way, but we let them know they are not alone, and in so doing, reduce our own sense of isolation, too.

Reaching for the good Samaritan in ourselves is about being all we can be, instead of the least we can get away with; about moving towards a world that trades on love, instead of fearfully shuffling backwards towards the abyss.

But regardless of what prompted this week’s tragedy, to many, David Hookes is already a hero. One of the paramedics who struggled to revive him at the scene said as much.

An inspired player, incisive coach, and straight-shooting commentator, his life was too short and unfairly taken. He will be missed.

Publication History

Deadly price of decency, The Herald Sun
21 Jan 2004

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