One night after work, I boarded the train for home. After two stops, I heard a loud thud and turned to see a young man writhing on the floor. I looked at the passengers near him to see how they would respond, but they went about their business. For a moment I, too, was frozen. The others on the train were either as befuddled as I was or were too detached to respond.
When it appeared that the young man may be experiencing a seizure, I rose and announced that someone should push the emergency button because I couldn’t find it.
After making eye contact with me, a young man pressed the emergency button, but he was unsure what to say to the conductor.
“Tell him to call 9-1-1,” I said.
Did that simple delegation set others to action? I don’t know, but things began to happen. Suddenly one man walked to the sick individual; a young woman knelt beside him to get a verbal response; and another woman called 9-1-1. One man in a TSA uniform did nothing.
When the conductor ushered us out to make room for the paramedics, I noticed that some passengers still looked as if they had witnessed nothing alarming.
Here’s what I learned from the experience.
When you feel as if you lack courage to take action, channel a strong leader you know. I imagined my colleague Val. I thought if she were in my position, she would’ve reached for the emergency button. Next, I thought about all of the women that I work with. None of them would’ve been content to do nothing.
I think one reason others were slow to react is because the man in the uniform did nothing. I’m usually the one who jumps in after somebody issues an order. On the train, I had to lead because nobody else did.
The teeny act of telling someone to notify the conductor changed the energy of the train. If one act of leadership can change a situation for the better, one act of detachment can have a negative effect.
As people of faith we have a responsibility to lead. Our baptism not only empowers us to care for our neighbor, it doesn’t give us an option not to.
When have you found yourself in an unexpected leadership position? What did you learn from the experience?
Elizabeth McBride now knows where the emergency call button on the CTA blue line train car is located. And if any of her neighbors need help, she’s going to press it.