Profiling Courage

Remarks to: The Worshipful Company Of Security Professionals

Alderman & Sheriff Professor Michael Mainelli MStJ FCCA FCSI(Hon) FBCS, Executive Chairman, Z/Yen Group, Wednesday, 24 February 2021, via Zoom, on the occasion of the launch of the Sheriffs’ Award 2021.

“Profiling Courage”

Master, Wardens, Distinguished Guests, Ladies & Gentlemen.

My brother, Sheriff Christopher Hayward, and I are delighted to have been asked to ‘hand on the baton’ of the Sheriffs’ Award for 2021.  Normally this award for bravery is judged by the Company each September, along with both the incoming and outgoing Sheriffs.  This means that each Sheriff gets to see the process twice.  As most of you know, Chris and I have been asked to extend our term of office for an extra year.  We believe this is the first time two Sheriffs have ‘rolled over’ since 1228.  Unusually, we will see the award process three times, as we hand it on to our successors who replace us at the end of September.

At the world pun championships they say that victory is easier said than punned. I have been asked to speak about what it was like for us taking part in the selection of the winners. The four criteria for the award are virtually impossible to assess rationally:

  • whether the individual was knowingly aware that he/she was at risk of harm;
  • the actual degree of danger or intimidation present at the time;
  • whether the individual acted of their own volition, irrespective of the presence or action of others;
  • to what degree the person’s actions were beyond their normal zone of comfort.

None of the submissions are about people blundering into danger, none about humdrum incidents, none about silly decisions, none about situations that wouldn’t challenge any person.

Chris and I have had the privilege of meeting 2019’s winner, DC Joby Reeve, being knifed while knowingly tackling four robbers, and 2020’s winner Richard Dimmack, stopping a knife attack that would have resulted in murder, as well as the London Bridge and United Guilds heroes. 

A supposed John Wayne, sadly not true goes, “Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.” but I can share a similar sentiment, truly written by Joanna Baillie in a play from 1798:

The brave man is not he who feels no fear,
For that were stupid and irrational;
But he, whose noble soul its fear subdues,
And bravely dares the danger nature shrinks from.

Count Basil (1798), Act III, scene 1, line 151

From reading the submissions, and personal experience, the three stages of bravery seem to be:

  • becoming aware of a situation;
  • assessing the situation;
  • doing the right thing.

Awareness and assessment can possibly be taught, but I’d like to draw your attention to that transition from assessing to doing the right thing.  Many of us have been in situations where we didn’t show bravery because we were unaware of what was going on.  Sometimes we’ve been aware, but unable to figure out what to do.  The coward, and we can all be cowards, is the one who completes the first two stages, and then doesn’t do the right thing.

Our discussions with Joby, Richard, veterans, front-line workers, whistleblowers, and others leads me to believe that ‘doing the right thing’ comes from within.  From strength of character moulded over many years.  From inner sources of spirituality and love of our fellow man.

None of the situations would pass health and safety tests, but these courageous folk are not fools.  They are not people who jump off rooftops, dive off bridges into freezing water, or leap into traffic for fun.

The brave people I’ve met often say they didn’t know what they were doing till it was over, or if they’d really known how serious it was that they wouldn’t have helped.  Sometimes this is modesty, of course.  But they move so immediately, instantaneously, from assessment to action they believe they didn’t think it through.  In many cases, if they hadn’t moved immediately the situation would have become irredeemable.  There is the tiniest of slivers between thought and action; for the brave it’s innate. 

Having lived your life with honest intent towards your fellow man, you move immediately from assessment to doing the right thing.  The brave know what’s right regardless of what their fellow man might think.  They do the right thing because they have made themselves into the right stuff.

The awards are tough to judge because you have to put yourself in the mind of others.  I was moved by one submission where, alone on a northwest beach on a stormy day, a man calmly called 999 and relying on the emergency services, left his phone in the sand, and walked into the stormy waters of the Irish Sea to stop a woman’s suicide.  He knew the risk, assessed the danger, acted without others seeing him, and certainly stretched his comfort zone while most evidently thinking ahead.  He hadn’t been on the Hero 101 training course; rather he had lived a life that would be heroic with or without the opportunity to demonstrate it at a special incident.e He

The triumph over fear is a lifetime’s achievement.  These awards celebrate lives, not special incidents.  Nelson Mandela said it:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

Long Walk To Freedom (1995)

The Worshipful Company of Security Professionals is so right to celebrate this award.  It is not about who is braver than whom.  It is about reminding us that brave, heroic, courageous individuals live amongst us, and that if we teach ourselves what the right thing is often enough, we too can join them when we need to act.  Judging these awards was a humbling privilege for Chris and me as Sheriffs, teaching us again about just doing the right thing.

The Worshipful Company rightly celebrates courage.  For as Winston Churchill wrote,

“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because, as has been said, ‘it is the quality which guarantees all others.’”

Great Contemporaries, “Alfonso XIII” (1937)

Thank you.