It’s inspiring to hear about heroic rescues and courageous acts by strangers that save lives.

One is inspired to act similarly whenever a need arises, but that might not be wise. Successful heroism is reported but failures should not be ignored. Some forethought is necessary both at the moment of need and reflection on one’s personal policy.

We are all capable and limited in various ways, despite wishes to be otherwise. It could be possible to transcend these limitations on occasion, but most people will not become tremendously stronger or knowledgeable just because the situation demands it.

Therefore, we should reflect on the kinds of help we can offer in dire circumstances so that we do not volunteer where our capabilities are insufficient. Good Samaritan laws have been passed to protect people who, offering reasonable help to those in distress, do some harm unwittingly. These laws recognize that help can be dangerous.

It can be dangerous for the helper, too. Some people do not want help and can resist it violently. This reaction can be due to mental illness, but some sane people in bad circumstances might reject interference in their lives. And there are clever thieves who feign distress to attract, rob and harm those who come to their aid.

Time might be lost calling 911, but professionals are trained to handle physical wounds. Other kinds of distress can wait a bit for careful consideration of helpful remedies and resources. When people are in financial or psychological need, subtler and more sophisticated help is essential. The model of the Good Samaritan is not useful there.

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