"It is no accident that our reflection on the emergency services follows on from our exploration of the challenges of the marketplace. In general the marketplace is driven by the human propensity towards competition. This is the drive of the savannah, the drive for survival in a complex and sometimes ruthless environment. My product must be better than yours, otherwise no one will buy it. I must get better marks than you in the exams, otherwise I won't get a job. The relentless drive to have a bigger and better home or car or circle of influential friends than the next person can take over our lives. Even small children in school are encouraged to be in competition with one another. The emergency services bring us face to face with the opposite tendency in human beings — the need and desire to be there for others where there is no payback, simply because that is the human thing to do.
"As a community we make choices about how to use our collective resources. Most democratic nations that can afford to do so make a collective electoral choice to use public funds to enable all citizens to have free access to what they need when they are in trouble — medical care when they are sick, specialist skills when they need rescue, protection when they are exposed to criminal or other threats. As individuals we are also invited to make choices about how we will respond to the needs of others. These choices take us beyond competition, to cooperation; beyond exploitation, to caring; beyond selling, to sharing.
"A story is told of a school catering for both able-bodied children and those challenged, either mentally or physically, in some way. Sports Day arrived, and the normal range of races were run, the winners being awarded their trophies. The parents duly applauded all the winners. Then came the race for the children who were variously challenged. The starter signal was given and they all set off along the track. All was going well, until one of the children fell. At that point all the other children in the race, with one accord, turned back to help their fallen friend. The child who had fallen was helped up again, all the children linked hands, and they ran the rest of the race together, crossing the finishing line hand in hand. And the onlookers gave them a standing ovation.
"This simple and, I believe, true story teaches us something tremendously important: although at one level we applaud the 'winners' in life, and encourage competition, when we see true altruism being lived out, we realize that we admire co-operation and compassion much more. The 'losers' can reveal themselves as 'winners' — winners of our hearts and minds, and winners of the challenge to reveal what it really means to be human.
"There are many people in our society who live for altruism. These men and women have chosen to use their energies and skills in the service of those most in need. They include many people whose lives are unsung songs of heroism, rarely if ever acknowledged — those who sit with the sick and the dying, those who care for the elderly and infirm, those who staff the charity shops or man the lifeboat crews and mountain rescue teams, those who help the marginalized find their way through the welfare labyrinth or teach newly arrived immigrants our language so that they can function in society. All these people, and many others, are living from a source of compassion, and not primarily from a desire for personal gain. Indeed, to our shame, we acknowledge that many such people offer their services unpaid, and many who are employed in the caring professions are very poorly recompensed, because they don't, and never can, make a profit."