why you shouldn’t be heroic

Why you shouldn’t be a hero:  because you might get fired.

A clerk at a gas station was held up at knife-point. He pulled out a gun. The robber left the scene. The clerk got fired.

Cothran had that gun with him for a reason. In the past couple of months, there have been upwards of 15 robberies in Nashua, many targeting convenience stores like the one where he worked. He says he knew it would eventually happen.

I don’t think Cothran considers himself a hero. He bucked store policy and took a stand, protecting himself, the store, and possibly other customers, against an armed robber, in an area where many store robberies had occurred. I think he deserved credit though. Had it been a customer at knife point, I suspect he would have reacted similarly. As it turned out, he was protecting himself.

The corporate owner of the gas station, Nouria Energy, justified the cowardly firing:

We do respect the constitutional right to bear arms. However, we believe the best way to keep our employees and customers safe is to prohibit weapons in the workplace.

If the clerk had just conformed to mindless corporate policy, putting himself at risk and unable to defend himself, he never would have been fired. But who does such a thing? Cowards.

Kristopher Oswald, a Michigan man who was fired from his job at a Wal-Mart after he says he tried to help a woman who was being assaulted in one of the retail giant’s parking lots, has been offered his job back.

Walmart fired one of its prized associates for… helping someone who was the victim of an assault. They want to hire him back–amid a public backlash in favor of Oswald–though it’s not clear that Oswald wants to return.

The lessons here are obvious. Defend yourself in defiance of corporate policy or come to someone else’s aid and you might get fired.

The more substantial lesson here is that law and liability affect culture. I don’t entirely blame companies for these sorts of policies. An employee who brings a gun to work and who isn’t as responsible as the gentleman described earlier is a huge financial liability. In sue-happy America, no company wants that, and making exceptions to their policy might later be construed as biased, hence the zero tolerance approach.

Behavior change as a result of changing laws and civil liability aren’t always bad. But as we’ve entered an age of legal literalism and ass-covering civil liability, it’s helpful to understand both the good and the bad. One must think very carefully before doing the right thing, as doing so might come at a heavy cost.

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