I’m one of them at times, I try not to be, but sometimes I fail at that.
That old saying, “Fight or Flight instinct” is striking me more and more as one that should be altered to “Fight, Flight or Shock instinct”. For things just like what you described.
Two events and the study of the public response to them, had a significant influence on how I view this stuff. Namely the trial of Jerry Sandusky and the massacre at the midnight premier of that Batman movie.
In the process of studying what was going on, papers, T.V. coverage and of course the articles online, I reviewed the comments that people were leaving at the bottom of the stories. Roughly, they were split up into thirds, one being bare sympathy for those directly effected and involved, second being those who shared their own experiences(especially with the Sandusky trial) and third, those who declared boldly what they would have done had they been in those circumstances. The latter was about how they would have rushed the shooter during the movie and how, had they any suspicion as to what Sandusky was doing, they would not have rested until he was in prison.
None of them said that they would have run away from the shooter or been consumed by shock and just sat there. None of them said they would have tried to convince themselves that what they suspected Sandusky was up to wasn’t what he was actually doing, IE. ‘I must be imagining things, etc.’.
Yet, a lot of people in that theater panicked and either froze or ran away.
In the Sandusky case, over the period of decades that he was raping boys, just via statistics, there had to have been dozens, if not hundreds of people who suspected that something was going on. Yet, they didn’t act, at least now with enough force to put an ultimate end to it.
It’s not easy to live in ones own mind and remain sane, thus we are efficient at conjuring up how we believe we would respond in various circumstances, generally in a positive light.
As you state though, we never know how we will actually respond in that moment until it is upon us.
Would life be better if it were more simple?