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  • Reverend James Squire

The Martelli/ Frazier effect

Justine McDaniel, a staff writer for the Inquirer, brought up the rape on a Septa train in a recent article and a failure for people nearby the incident to intervene to help the victim. The title of the article was “Tips on How to Intervene in a Crime.” She has some important observations such as: “But many factors keep people from taking action: “They freeze, they think no one around them believes anything is wrong, they think somebody else has more responsibility to deal with it, they’re not sure whether help is needed, or they’re afraid of being wrong.”

For clarification, not as many people as was reported after the crime was accurate. There were fewer people to intervene. There were the usual suggestions for intervention such as call 911, delegate actions to people present, or record the event on your phone. I think that Sharon Tracy of the group Training Active Bystanders, gets closer to the issue of intervention when she said, “In the moment, in a really fraught situation, a scary situation, it does take moral courage.” To me that is the most important statement that was made in the article. So where does moral courage begin to take shape in heroic lives doing heroic things?

I don’t think that it comes from just finding the courage just when it is needed. I believe it comes when we are young and in school or perhaps a little later. It has to be what Socrates referred to as “habits of the heart” where you learn courage by repeating courageous acts. Courage must become second nature so that it is there when you need to call for it like on a Septa train where a passenger is being attacked or even more current when a bloody fight broke out on an American Airlines flight or the stewardess who was punched twice in the face on another flight.

Malcolm Gladwell makes a point that skill enters the realm of second nature when you repeat an act 10,000 times. Itzhak Perlman, the famous Israeli-American violinist, broke one of his violin strings when playing at Carnegie Hall. When everyone thought he would stop, he continued on playing with one less string. The crowd gave him a standing ovation for we rejoice with courageous acts when we see them. His comment to the audience was priceless. He said in humility, “Sometimes you have to see how much you can do with what you have left.” There is the old joke with truth in it, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice!”

Intervention based in courage must be second nature. One of the locations for the creation of this character trait is the world of sports when you are young. I watched a wrestler lose match after match and then have his first victory by reversing a talented opponent in a dramatic way. That’s an act that he could refer to when challenged by events in his future.

Phill Martelli was the legendary coach of basketball at St. Joseph’s University who was fired because he wasn’t winning enough games. He and alumni were heart broken. Phil was lost because as he said, “It was never a job. It was my life.” It was quite a blow to him, but he went on to become an assistant coach at the University of Michigan. Phil’s first commitment was to people as seen in the following story: “His St. Joe’s Team had made its way through much of the NCAA March Madness Tournament. I called him that night after a big win and left a message of congratulations for him and the team. They weren’t expected to do that well. I received a call back from him the next morning. I am sure my call was one of many that he got so I was surprised that he called and further surprised by what he asked: “What can I do for you, Rev. Squire?” I responded by saying that after the tournament and when the dust settles could he speak to our school community in Chapel about character. He asked, “What time is chapel today?” When I told him 9:40, he responded that he was at the airport after the return flight with his team. He hadn’t slept at all. He told me to see him at chapel that day. He could have talked about anything about character, but he chose to tell this group of faculty and young people that what you will be in the future are the choices and experiences that you make now. He could have chosen any aspect of character, but that is what he chose. It must have been his core value. More important to me and the community, he chose to come right away with little or no sleep. I told the school community that. He received a standing ovation and thanked the kids and faculty for giving him the opportunity. I wasn’t worried about him after he was fired. I knew that he had the right stuff and would be fine, and he was. Courage. Second nature.

There is a phrase that characterizes people of courage who will intervene. When you hear it, you know that you are hearing it said by the real deal. There are famous courageous people such as those in the armed services who receive the Medal of Honor, the highest military award that the country gives, who respond in a humble voice that they are “just like anyone else. They would do what they did again.” Some feel that these words are just false acts of humility. Surely, they must know that they are heroes. We see the same attitude when normal everyday people who may be your neighbor perform the heroic and say in a humble voice that they did what anyone would do. I do NOT believe that these are fake acts of humility whether it be a recipient of the Medal of Honor or the local everyday citizen who steps up. That is their life. That is who they are.

It is second nature to them so that they feel and think the same way that Coach Martelli articulated when he said that “it was never a job. It was his life.” When you hear that phrase, think of words that are shaped by courage that causes one to intervene based on courageous acts in the past. It is the most honorable statement of second nature that one could say created by a habit of the heart. The problem is that you never will know if you have it until you actually need it.

I would love to know more about the young 17 years old girl, Darnella Frazier, who filmed the killing of George Floyd. We all should know about this courageous intervention. Many feel that she produced the key piece of evidence in Chauvin’s conviction. People have forgotten her name. She has become the “girl who took the video.” They don’t know how injustice done to black people developed her courage to intervene hammered out in the smithy of her soul. They don’t know the ramifications to her of her action. Taking that video was not a job. It was her life. She said that the year before the trial of Chauvin was not safe for her. She lived in hotel after hotel constantly looking over her shoulder. Reporters were repeatedly knocking on her door at home. She shook so hard at night that her mother had to hold her. Then she had to attend the trial and testify. Every American should read her complete statement. It is below in full. Life events and responses create every day courage to intervene when you need it even if you are just 17.

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