‘But it’s not ok to be a bystander.
Earlier this week I saw a man struggle with his shopping trolley. It had a dodgy wheel. He also walked with a stick. It was busy; as supermarkets often are, and I saw a vast array of people walk by him and not even pay him any concern. I offered him my help, he was happy that someone had paid him some attention, yet he was good with plodding along at his own pace. I initially hesitated. I had an internal conversation…
– You should do something – What could I do? – Nope I should do something-
But I figured, the very least I could do was extend a helping hand, to try to reassure people who other humans will stop and help if they can. This instance wasn’t such a serious interaction. But this spurred on a thought. Which led me to discover this thing called the bystander effect.
The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. Social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley popularised the concept following the infamous 1964 Kitty Genovese murder in New York City. Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment while bystanders who observed the crime did not step in to assist or call the police. Latané and Darley attributed the bystander effect to the perceived diffusion of responsibility (onlookers are more likely to intervene if there are few or no other witnesses) and social influence (individuals in a group monitor the behaviour of those around them to determine how to act). In Genovese’s case, each onlooker concluded from their neighbours’ inaction that their own personal help was not needed. (psychology today)
Everyone witnessing the situation assumes that, because of the presence of the group, someone will take charge. Yet no one does. The responsibilty is diffused throughout the group, and no one actually takes charge.
So, this is in effect, that hesitation (and justification) taken to a point where it leads in inaction. There are many reasons a person may choose to not act in a situation, either to prevent harm to themselves, peer pressure, shock (although this is not so much choice) or an inbuilt off centred set of morals.
In the case of Kitty Genovese you could assume that people did not step up for fear of their own safety, however, for no one to (passively – i say passively as a comparison to an active action of attending the wounded, or approaching the attacker) act and call the police is concerning.
Now remove that sense of danger – One of the experiments carried out by Latané and Darley:
One involved having a group of 72 students participate in a study where they were supposed to discuss issues involving college freshmen moving into a new city environment. Each person was housed in a booth and the participants could not see each other while speaking or listening. What the students did not know was that a person had been planted by the researchers to fake experiencing a seizure.
The results were startling. When a person was alone with the person faking the seizure, 85 percent of the time the participant left the room and notified someone. However, when there were four participants in the room, someone leaving and notifying staff dropped down to 31 percent. (Psychology today)
This experiment shows the effect of the group on the strength and impact of that hesitation. And the inability for one to take the lead, and help the person in need.
I guess you can apply this in a way that may speak to more of you, as the likelihood of us witnessing a seizure or violent attack is (thankfully) not massively high. What we are a lot more likely to witness is hate crime. Intolerance towards LGBTQ groups, different races, genders, religions (etc) is most definitely on the rise.
Bystanders; who succumb to their hesitation and shy away from their beliefs, and either ignore the bigotry they witness, or pretend that it isn’t as bad as it seems; actually have the power to change what’s happening. I think being strong in your beliefs (which I hope are based in equality, fairness and acceptance) enables you to overcome that initial hesitation and have conviction in your actions, and the confidence to say – No, that’s not ok-
I will never be a bystander to hateful language and abuse. If I hear it, I will call it out and report it, and if I can, I will stop it. By adding my name I promise to stand up for fairness, kindness and never be a bystander. (The Stonewall #nobystanders pledge)
So I signed up to the Stonewall Nobystanders pledge.
I acknowledge my hesitation to help others, however I truly believe that kindness breeds more kindness. And even a small action can make a big difference.
Wednesday Ramble over.