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Love of Others Vs. Love of Self

In August 2009 Homer T. Roberts Jr. saved the life of a 12-year-old boy Tony Dunbar from drowning in an outgoing current in the channel on the southernmost tip of Tybee Island. When Homer saw the paralyzing fear in the boy’s eyes, he yelled “This little boy isn’t going to drown today” and came to the boy’s rescue. Homer kept talking to the boy saying “Don’t give up, don’t give up” and managed to push the boy away from the current. The boy’s stepfather pulled the boy up from the water.

Homer then began his own struggle in the deadly current. But the current was too strong. Homer was found dead the next morning by the Coast Guard.

Wesley Autrey, a Harlem construction worker was waiting for a southbound No. 1 train at the 137th Street/City College station with his two young daughters, as a first-year film student at the New York Film Academy, Cameron Hollopeter, had a seizure.

Wesley and two women tried to help. Wesley used a pen to keep his mouth open and called for a station agent. But before the help arrived Cameron’s convulsions sent him off the platform and onto the tracks.

Making a split-second decision Wesley jumped down to help the boy, knowing it could cost him his life. At first Wesley tried to pull Cameron up from the tracks. But the train was approaching, “so I just chose to dive on top of him and pin him down”, Wesley said. Wesley pushed Cameron into the gap between the rails and held him down as the train rumbled just inches above them. After seeing someone on the tracks, the train’s operator had put the emergency brakes on. A few train cars passed over Wesley and Cameron, but neither of them was injured.

Abraham Zelmanowitz worked as a computer programmer for Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield on the 27th floor of the World Trade Center in New York City. Abraham had worked with his friend, Ed Beyea, a quadriplegic, for 12 years. Ed became paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident when he was 22. As the elevators had stopped working after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, Ed had no way of getting out of the tower.

Abraham could have walked down the stairs to the street level in a few minutes. But he chose to stay with his friend and comfort him until the bitter end. He sacrificed his life for his friend who was afraid of the smoke. Abraham was a truly altruistic person. “Had it been a casual acquaintance”, his brother said, “He would have done the same thing. He could never turn his back on another human being”.

We render people who sacrifice or risk sacrificing their lives for the sake of others heroes. We celebrate supererogatory acts, acts that go above and beyond one’s call of duty. Supererogatory acts are often grounded in irrational feelings. Giving all of one’s money to charity is a supererogatory act but the act is grounded in altruism that has gone overboard. Yet if I heard of someone who gave all his money to starving children, I would admire him. When I hear of Abraham staying with his friend until the bitter end, I admire him. But why do we find supererogatory acts so admirable? Isn’t it irrational to have stronger positive feelings for another person than for one self? What do you think? Feel free to leave your input below.

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