Posts Tagged ‘altruism’

I recently read a newspaper article that discussed whether human nature, when unchecked, is selfish and greedy, or caring and altruistic. This is not a simple argument. One could say that it depends on the circumstances, or that it depends on culture. People could in one situation be very selfish, but in another quite self-sacrificing in their care for people close to them or who are in need. What is clear is that there are vast numbers of people who devote their time to the service of others who are not close to them, indeed may be unknown to them, where the question of being paid for their effort doesn’t come into it. Perhaps they are in a secure position financially, or perhaps they’re not, but still give what time they have freely. Given the diversity of our lives, there will be many different situations in between. One such group of volunteers are the blood bikers.

blood bikers, nhs, london, ace cafe, north circular road

Here is a group of blood bikers at the Ace Cafe on the North Circular Road in London, a hangout for bikers since 1938. © John Stepney

The blood bikers are a band of motorbike riders who give up their time to courier medical supplies around the country, and in doing so save the NHS hundreds of thousands of pounds. Their name might sound a bit ominous, but the mission of this 1,500-strong gang is deadly serious. They are men and women all over Britain who dedicate a few evenings a week to deliver supplies to hospitals across the country as stand-ins for the daytime professionals.  In 2013 they responded to around 35,000 urgent requests from hospitals, delivering everything from blood and platelets to medicine and breast milk, essentially anything you can get on the back of a bike. The volunteers have their own organisation, the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes (NABB)

The idea of rapid response motorcycle based charity, run by unpaid volunteers, goes back over half a century when a group was formed in London. The NABB was formed in 2010, and has been involved in setting up numerous independent regional groups, of which there are now 25, and the aim is to provide a coast-to-coast service across the UK. The volunteers have to work to professional standards and comply with a variety of regulations. Some of the bikers are retired, most of them are in full-time jobs. Most of all they are from all walks of life. More than a few of the bikers have given three decades of service to the NHS.

During 2013, the bikers responded to requests from 262 hospitals, for urgent transport of whole blood cells, platelets, plasma, serum, surgical instruments,  patient notes, X-rays, human donor milk, and MRI scans. Requests to one of the two or three bikers on duty within a local area, usually come via telephone texts like ‘Urgent blood sample from Peterborough to Birmingham’. It may be that the blood has to go to a specialist testing laboratory with the results required for a patient early the next morning. Within minutes the biker is on their bike, riding off into the night to the pick up point. At the pick-up point a technician on night duty hands over a specially sealed sample box, the biker hands over a receipt, and the package is secured in one of the bike’s panniers. At the destination, a theatre technician in their scrubs may be waiting at reception to take the package. Then they vanish back inside. (more…)


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In the Independent today, there’s a story of a supermarket checkout assistant at the Sainsbury’s Crayford store in south-east London being ‘hailed as a heroine after striking a blow for modern manners by refusing to serve a shopper who was talking on her phone’. Speaking after the incident, the shopper, Jo Clarke, a property manager, said about the checkout assistant ‘I couldn’t believe how rude she was. When did she have the right to give me a lecture on checkout etiquette? I won’t be shopping there again. I’ll go to Waitrose instead’

Not suprisingly, Sainsbury’s felt obliged to apologise to the customer saying that it was not company policy to refuse service to people on mobile phones, and gave Ms Clarke vouchers to compensate for her treatment. But social media sites and internet forums were enraged that the store had caved in, and the public appeared to be rallying round the checkout worker.

One could say a great deal about this incident, and its irony, but what struck me was the checkout assistant being hailed as a heroine.

Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, Postman's Park, City of London

Tablet erected in memory of Alice Ayres in the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman’s Park, Little Britain, City of London.
This is one of 54 memorial tablets erected on a covered wall in the park, as a record of ordinary people who died saving the lives of others and who might otherwise have been forgotten.

A hero or heroine  in Greek mythology and folklore, was originally a demigod, the son or daughter from one immortal and one mortal parent. Later, hero, or heroine, came to refer to characters who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self-sacrifice – that is, heroism – for some greater good of all humanity. This definition originally referred to martial courage or excellence, but extended to more general moral excellence. In a dictionary, the first definition is invariably one that defines hero as a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life. But there are other definitions: someone who fights for a cause, someone who can be looked up to for their actions, a person noted for special achievement in a particular field, or who is idealized for possessing superior qualities in any field, or just someone who an individual admires or idolises very much. And of course the main character in a story, play, film, who is usually good, is often portrayed as a hero who, despite the odds being stacked against him or her, typically prevails in the end.

Myself, I prefer the hero who is brave in the face of danger or adversity, who fights for a cause for the benefit of others, as opposed to someone who is successful in their field, or who has influence, wealth, or fame. In the latter case, musicians, singers, sports people, TV personalities, royalty, are often idolised by fans and commentators and described as heroes, as are some inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, unorthodox business people, and populist politicians. But to me, none of these groups are being brave in the face of danger or standing up for a cause with little regard for the consequences.


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