Wednesday, August 15, 2012

When Doing Your Job Makes You Heroic

It sounded odd when I first read it on the Washington Post's website.

And then I got an e-mail from the folks at Manhattan Declaration, and their e-mail's topic focused on it as well.

On "him," actually.  After all, they're talking about the security guard at the Family Research Council's Washington, DC headquarters who helped subdue a shooter today.

At 10:45 this morning, a man walked into the lobby of the building housing the politically controversial group and shot a security guard in the arm when he tried to impede his progress into the building.  According to the Washington Post, despite having just been shot, the guard, along with some bystanders, subdued the gunman until police arrived.

Unconfirmed reports say the suspect was carrying a takeout bag from Chick-fil-A, and that he apologized to the security guard after he shot him, saying something to the effect of the guard not being his intended victim.

Nevertheless, the district's police chief, Cathy Lanier, is quoted by the Post as calling the security guard "a hero, as far as I'm concerned.  He did his job."

OK, which is it?

Is the security guard a hero, or was he doing his job?  Because doing one's job doesn't necessarily make one a hero, does it?

Vocabulary Malfunction or Pay Grade Deficiency?

Initially, I chalked it up to a police official speaking while her adrenaline was still running, and grateful that nobody was killed.  It wasn't like she was holding a scheduled press conference.  Nor is she the first person in our vocabulary-challenged society to strip words of their meaning and use them out of context.

But then the Manhattan Declaration sends out an e-mail this afternoon, entitled "Hat Tip to a Hero," parroting DC's police chief:

"Such heroic action warrants a thanks beyond mere words. But, for now, words will suffice. Thank you for your bravery, Leo. And for the part you play in the pursuit of a more free, more faithful nation."

At least we learn that the security guard's first name is Leo.  His name hasn't otherwise been widely published.  And yes, he likely prevented an even more serious tragedy at the Family Research Council's (FRC) headquarters.  I'm sad he got shot, I hope he heals quickly, and trust that he'll be back on the job soon.

Still, however, isn't there something trite and hollow about these accolades?  Granted, the security guard was brave to continue a confrontation with his own shooter, but does that in and of itself make him a hero?  As a security guard, his job was to protect the building and its occupants.  But is a plumber a hero for fixing a leaky pipe?  Shucks, is a president a hero for balancing a budget?  When you do the job you're supposed to do, is that heroic?

It's at this point where the discrepancy should seem obvious:  Security guards probably only earn a little less than police officers - who themselves are not handsomely paid, yet in this case, they are defending the health and welfare of an entire building full of people in the nation's capital.  Either the pay for security guards is woefully low when compared to their scope of work, especially considering that this isn't the first security guard to be shot in the line of duty in DC.  Or the scope of work is significantly higher than their pay grade.

Higher, at least, if your scope of work includes scenarios where you're the main line of defense in front of a gunman in your employer's lobby.  Technically, wouldn't a hero have been somebody like a mail clerk tackling the shooter who had just wounded the guard?  Tackling a shooter is not in most mail clerks' job description.

It's not even like this event is setting a precedent.  Remember in 2009, the security guard who was shot and killed while on the job at DC's Holocaust Memorial Museum?  The shooter was an elderly white supremacist who died before being brought to trial.

And speaking of lobbies, it's not like the FRC is some lobbyist for corn subsidies, or tire manufacturers, or some other docile group that hardly riles murderous intentions.  This is the same high-profile organization that advocates - oftentimes in sloppy and embarrassing ways - against homosexuality and abortion.  Considering how politically volatile these issues are, wouldn't you think security guards in the FRC's headquarters should probably be para-military specialists with Kevlar strapped to every extremity?

I'm not joking here - I'm totally serious.  If a security guard's job is to provide security, and people say you're a hero if you get shot:  is that really in the guard's job description?  "Oh, yeah; we're only gonna pay you $45K a year, and you might just get shot, but if you do, we'll call you a hero and call it even.  OK?"

Assigning Worth to Jobs

Not that anybody at the FRC would say that.  It's not even what they thought when they set up their security plans.  How many employers expect their employees to get shot at?  But that's my point:  we see these security guards all the time.  We joke about them, calling them "rent-a-cops."  At airports, and in banks, courthouses, and building lobbies:  people who may or may not be physically capable of providing much genuine security still playing a security charade.  I'm not knocking security guards, but I am trying to show how what our society thinks security guards are worth and what some of them actually end up doing for us don't jive.

In free market economics, each employee is supposed to be paid relative to their value to their employer.  As demonstrated today, the career of a security guard is one of those careers that is an aberration to free market economics.  What if this gunman had made it past this security guard?  Would the guard have been excused if, when the suspect had pulled a gun, he stepped back and said, "hey, I'm not paid enough to take a bullet for anybody.  I'm just here as window dressing, to give the appearance of security."

Does the fact that this guard didn't say that, and that he prevented the gunman from getting into the building, suddenly make executives at the FRC wonder if maybe those folks patrolling the lobby downstairs might be underpaid?

Maybe this guard, who we think is named Leo, really is a hero, because according to his pay grade, he shouldn't have had to put his own life on the line.

But since he's now proven that's part of his job, don't you think he deserves a nice raise?

Update:  Turns out, the security official who got shot was not in uniform, and likely not technically a security "guard," but a member of the building's management staff.  For an update, please click here.


  1. I LOVE this post, Tim. Great angle; one that nobody else has bothered taking. I, too, that it was strange that other outlets were calling someone a hero without telling us us name. At World, we did:

    As far as weapons and pay, I totally agree. My brother is a security guard at a multi-billion dollar Intel campus in Oregon, yet he's underpaid and unarmed. It's ridiculous.

  2. Well, I'm rather ambivalent on this, Tim. Would you not call the five missionaries who were killed in Ecuador in 1956 heroes? I rather doubt they'd refer to themselves like that. They'd probably say they were 'just' doing their job.

  3. Dave, I would say that being a cross-cultural missionary, particularly in a jungle environment, is a job so fraught with variables and dangers that job descriptions really don't mean what they mean here in the United States And technically, all believers are called to view life differently than secularists around us. If this security guard in DC is born-again, he would have likely engaged the intruder in whatever capacity was necessary because he was confident of his eternal destiny. I'll admit I didn't think much about cross-cultural missions when I wrote this. However, I'm not sure that invalidates my point, that if people are entrusted with the physical lives of others, shouldn't they be paid accordingly?

  4. Hi Tim,
    Great article! I agree with what you said. Glad I found your blog. Also read your blog on Brown - very well said. Loved your quote on Jesus being all our "P"s. He is my provider, my peace, my prince, my power, my protector, my prosperity, my purpose for living! How blessed I am to be His child, know my destiny, and have you as my brother in Him! Joanne


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