The humanity of strangers

Governments need people to take responsibility for the lives of themselves and others, because it connects community and saves money.

The NZ Coroner today decided that two well-intentioned citizens who befriended, calmed and sheltered a distraught young woman were “contributing factors” to her later death (a sea-drowning after she left their house).

In the interests of my humanity and the community, I refuse to heed the message in this decision that people should call the police rather than take first responsibility for adverse circumstances.

The NZ Police submitted to the coroner that the failure of the citizens to call the police meant the women did not have professional help. This shameless claim was made despite the woman saying she did not want the police called, because when she had called them earlier that evening they had refused to come to her aid (instead sending a cab, which never arrived because it went to the wrong address). 

Let’s get this clear – the police and coroner are saying that the public should call the ‘professionals’ who failed many times that same night.

I reject the idea that people should not try to help themselves or others, but should call in specialists. This ‘State specialisation’ rubric separates people. It reduces relationships to specialist processes. It allows us to shuck off responsibility to each other by passing it on to strangers.

When communities deal with their own difficulties (not emergencies, obviously), they have stronger bonds, are happier, and are more settled. When the instruments of the State get involved, we are infantilised.

A while back my family had a 5am visit from an elderly woman in her nightgown who was lost. It was quickly apparent that she had light dementia. We kept her calm and gently gained information to help us track down who she was, and where she lived. We discussed contacting the police but concluded they would have to do exactly what we were doing, and their involvement would kick-off paperwork and processes unlikely to help anyone. With the help of local friends we worked out her name and address. We walked her home about six thirty in the morning and contacted her family.

So people can clearly manage incidents themselves. In fact, according to the NZ Police’s current rules, this was not a problem we should call them about. I’m fine with that.

By dealing with the matter ourselves we reinforced community bonds, we did the right thing for our neighbours, and we saved the State money.

If I ever have to choose, it will be the humanity, compassion and efforts of strangers over the ‘professionalism’ of instruments of the State.

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