By now Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater has become widely known for his actions toward a passenger. Though details are somewhat sketchy it appears that Slater got upset about her carry-on luggage, used foul language toward her and other passengers, then activated an emergency escape chute and left the plane, taking along some beer.
What I find disturbing about this is that many are making Mr. Slater into a hero. While his actions may or may not have had some justification, I see nothing heroic about them. I believe there are three requirements for heroes:
First, the hero must face a bad situation, one out of the ordinary and requiring appropriate action. That may have been the case though there are conflicting reports. If a passenger was really causing trouble that may have created such a situation. Mr. Slater may have been in such a situation but that alone is not enough to justify calling him a hero. People regularly face such situations. Some become heroes, others fail miserably. The situation provides the opportunity for heroism but does not make heroism automatic.
Second, the hero must take appropriate action beyond what a normal human would do. He must risk himself or otherwise go well out of what most of us would find to be a natural reaction to that situation. In this Mr. Slater fails miserably. His actions were nothing more than a tantrum, an animal-like reaction. Any two-year-old can throw a tantrum.
Third, his action must be effective in helping others or resolving the problem. Again Mr. Slater fails. His actions did nothing to make anything better. In fact he disturbed other passengers, cost his employer a large sum of money, and may have made prosecution of the passenger difficult or impossible. If that passenger was causing major problems she could have been prosecuted on federal charges of interference with a flight crew. Mr. Slater confused things to the point that effective prosecution may not be possible. He did not make things better but instead made them worse.
Just because someone does something we'd like to do does not make that action heroic. Nor should we encourage such intemperate actions by lionizing people like Mr. Slater.
How often are such people made into heroes when they are not? I don't know but I do know that it happens. Several years ago a snowboarder got lost on the route from the Timberline Ski Area on Mount Hood down to Government camp. He did act rather sensibly after becoming lost, dug a snow cave and took care of himself. However it would have been much better had he simply acted responsibly and either not taken that route or first prepared himself by learning how to navigate in the conditions he would face. Instead he caused many searchers to have to go look for him, disrupting their lives and costing the county in overtime for sheriff's deputies.
What was the result? He was treated as a hero and several businesses even gave him some nice, new snowboarding and outdoor gear. He was rewarded for his mistake. We cannot know if his treatment as a hero had anything to do with this next, but during the next three weeks two other snowboarders got in trouble taking the same route he took and getting lost in the same way.
There are real heroes in this world and they deserve our respect. However we should be careful to avoid treating people as heroes when they just do something stupid. Let's not encourage bad or dumb behavior.