I stopped a fight today. I was on my way from work, at the Downtown Crossing T stop, getting on the orange line.
It was crowded and the train in the station was too full for the entirety of the would-be passengers to get on. I was following behind a woman who had a suitcase in tow. She appeared to be in a frustrated hurry, as she was making her way haphazardly through the crowd.
Near one of the too-crowded doors, I believe she bumped into someone — evidently someone of short temperment. There may have been a quick back and forth shove that I did not see. As she passed, the lady she had bumped into made an angry remark, turned, and pushed luggage toting lady.
At this point, luggage lady, yelling herself, fell into the crowd and I found myself between the two sudden adversaries. Most people in the crowded space seemed surprised or confused. I immediately stepped between them and instinctively found myself repeating, "It's not helping", towards each one in turn as they hurled expletives.
The luggage lady quickly righted herself and advanced on the shover. I found myself a pushing proxy, attempting to hold my ground between the two as they lunged for each other, each yelling insistently that the other had pushed first. I still found myself stating aloud to both, "It's not helping".
A moment later some of the other passers-by collected themselves and assisted. The situation diffused without much further clash. The luggage lady continued down the platform, more flustered than before, but with less of a crowd in her way. I continued as well, passing her further down the platform. The next train came, and I assume we all boarded separate cars.
As I sat on the train, I felt the onset of adrenaline in my system. It was neither a rush nor a high as some experience. It was simply a mildly unpleasant shakiness that I felt. I found myself wondering if I had done the right thing.
Not that stopping the fight was wrong. Au contraire, I wondered if what I was saying, "it's not helping", was in fact helping. Could I have diffused the situation more deftly? I intentionally demonstrated only modest physicalty; I had no intention of escalating the scuffle. Neither woman looked at me as I spoke, the locus of their glare focused on each other.
What could I have said that would have broken their intensity? At least one person claims to have worked to confuse their assailant, but that trick presumes the attention of the attacker. Maybe it would have worked, but it would have been uniquely awkward had it failed. And getting both women to hear me simultaneously only serves to reduce my odds of success.
I did find myself coming to the question of whether I should have interfered at all. I happened to be in a logistically optimal spot to step between them, but I could have easily stepped out of the way. I asked myself this only because I am a father now and my own safety is more paramount than ever before.
I have found myself coming to the aid of the physical distressed several times before. I've driven a drunk stranger to the hospital simply because he asked which way it was. I've helped the impaired on escalators, (a barely functioning drug addict who had scared everyone off). Recently I had a conversation with a man who, by his own accord, was suffering from withdrawl of some sort, as evidenced by the vomit he was leaving on the train floor. A favorite of mine was a delirious man who was scaring some tourists; I struck up a conversation to distract him in which he told me how magnets will protect the United States from foreign invaders. I've stood between my friends and those who look like they're about to become physically violent.
I never hesitate to do it and, to my good fortune, it's always ended well. But now I find myself asking: what if? What if the person I help sees me as a threat? What if the person I assist attacks me? It's always been my instinct to run towards these folks. It is a combination of the fact that I see everyone else running away and my own naive assumption that bad things won't happen.
I don't want to change this habit of mine. Helping people is inherently good. Good not only for the people helped, but for the public around them. My vitality has given me some assurance that the worst I am likely come away with is a bruise. As I get older, that will change. I will also start having my son by my side more frequently. I will not put him in harm's way. This is a question I believe I will find myself asking more seriously as time progresses.