Dao-ist Hero or Passive Passenger?

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It’s been several days since Dr. David Dao was dragged off United flight 3411, and I have used that time to indulge my outrage at the airlines, at the security guards who mauled Dr. Dao, and even at Dr. Dao himself who, I learned, was convicted of six felony counts of obtaining drugs by fraud, and for writing prescriptions and checks to a male patient in exchange for sex. I’m not out of outrage, but I’m ready to tackle a question that has been nagging me: What would I have done if I have been a passenger on that plane?

Passenger smartphone videos make it clear that some people voiced their shock and disapproval, but most did their best to ignore what was happening, and no one intervened to stop it. But I’m not judging what they did, I’m wondering what I would do.

I’d like to think that I would have gotten out of my seat and tried to physically stop the police from breaking Dr. Dao’s nose and knocking out two of his teeth. Or maybe I would have unbuckled my seat belt and stood in front of the exiting officers like Tank Man standing against a column of Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. Or maybe I would have slipped out of my seat and laid across the floor of the plane blocking the police exist as they dragged Dr. Dao to the front of the plane. Maybe. But I doubt it.

Decades ago while living in Boston I was caught in the middle of a police takedown of a motorcyclist they’d been chasing. The motorcyclist crashed into my car, and was thrown onto the hood. The police swarmed over my car with guns drawn. I was horrified. I considered getting out of the car and trying to calm the cops down, but the gun aimed at my windshield kept me from moving. I suspect I would have been no braver on United 3411.

Two thousand years ago, Rabbi Hillel taught, “In a place without heroes, be a hero,” (Pirke Avot 2:5). Yes! But it’s one thing to celebrate this teaching and another thing to embody it.

What would you do? How do you know?

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