Crunch time for good Samaritans

Caroline Frost
October 13, 2009 12:00AM

EVERY parent's worst nightmare is how Bendigo police described the events of the weekend.

Ryan Hayes, one of the region's brightest young football stars, lies in hospital after stepping in to defend someone being picked on by somebody bigger in a pub.

His noble effort was repaid with a cowardly punch to the back of the head, and many sleepless nights ahead for his parents.

Other names immediately come to mind. Back in May, Luke Mitchell stood up to help a stranger in Sydney Rd, Brunswick and died after being stabbed.

In 2007, solicitor Brendan Keilar waved goodbye to his young family and made his daily journey to work. Except he never got there, because he was shot dead helping a young woman in the CBD. A young Dutch backpacker, Paul de Waard, tried to do the same thing that day and it took him a year to recover from his physical injuries.

These are all good Samaritans, undoubtedly brought up to respect and protect others. Like Ron Barassi, who went to help a woman in St Kilda and for his pains got a bashing from thugs when they turned their attentions to him instead.

Certainly in the sporting legend's own household, the message is clear: no more acts of chivalry. Understandably, Barassi's wife has decided she'd rather have her husband in one piece than in heroic tatters.

But what do the rest of us learn from these incidents? That intervening is more trouble than it's worth? That it comes at great cost, and these stakes are even higher as potential assailants carry knives and other weapons.

Victims like Keilar's widow and parents may hopefully be comforted by pride that they loved a man whose sense of honour committed him to helping others. But pride doesn't bring back their hero.

So what to do?

It's a no-brainer when it's only ourselves at risk. We walk away, surrender the wallet, the jacket, the argument, whatever pathetic excuse for an argument that these sociopaths have invented.

But can we really live with ourselves if, say, it's a vulnerable elderly lady being picked on? Instead, as civilised beings, we instinctively do the sums: work out the chances of helping her against some brute, say 4 out of 10, and compare this with the possible risk of injury to ourselves.

But what if that's a 6? The higher number wins, and we walk away, trying not to catch anyone's eye. And that number increases if we weigh in other people we must consider, like Ryan Hayes' parents, and Brendan Keilar's children.

Thinking about all of this, let's remember the police on a weekend night, long after you or I have shut the door on personal risk.

Their strategies may often be found wanting and their popularity may rise and fall, but suddenly, I have fresh respect for a group of people whose job involves making such calculations on a daily basis, and who do not have the luxury we enjoy, that of turning a blind eye.