The Bystander Effect: Where Everyone Watches You Drown
No one is coming to help.
Just recently, I read the story of the 28-year old woman that was stabbed to death outside of her apartment in New York. The theory was officially recognized after her murder. Even though it was something that could have been totally avoided. It wasn’t, and she died.
As much as you think you will be the different one, it is hard for the human mind to defy all that makes sense to it. That is why it is always easier to assume someone else will help.
Her name was Kitty. She returned to her apartment complex in the early hours of the morning, at 3 am, after finishing her shift at a local bar. After parking her car close to her apartment building, she began walking the short distance to the entrance.
As she walked, she noticed a figure at the far end of the lot. She shifted directions and headed towards a different street, but her assailant followed and seized her.
As she yelled, neighbors from the apartment building went to the window and watched as he stabbed her. A man from the apartment building yelled down “Let that girl alone!” (New York Times, 1964).
Following this, the assailant appeared to have left, but once the lights from the apartments turned off.
Her assailant returned and stabbed Kitty again. Once again, the lights came on and the windows opened driving the assaulter away from the scene.
Unfortunately, the assailant returned and stabbed Kitty for the final time. The first call to the police came in at 3:50 am and the police arrived in two minutes.
When the neighbors were asked why they did not intervene or call the police earlier, some answers were “I didn’t want to get involved”; “Frankly, we were afraid”; “I was tired. I went back to bed.” (New York Times, 1964).
And the truth is, you and I could have been one of the bystanders that day and nothing would have changed.
What is it that makes people in larger numbers more vulnerable than those in smaller numbers? Well, psychology says a lot about that and I’m not a psychologist. But, coming across that story was quite humbling because I have been there.
It is believed that the smaller the group, the higher the chances the victim will receive timely help.
It could be a result of so many things; Like not wanting to be embarrassed, stress, fear for yourself, or genuinely not knowing what to do. But,
Look at a more relatable scenario,
What are the chances you’ll get help if your car stopped somewhere in London/New York? compared to your car stopping somewhere in Redcar/ Independence?
You'll come across more people in London but chances are, it will take a longer time to get help than in a small town.
This does not necessarily mean that the bystanders do not care. You could even see genuine care in their eyes, but that doesn’t really fix anything, does it? I have come to realize that, except we are taught or shown how, most of us will not help. And there can be legitimate reasons for that.
Just like how I made up my mind to not give CPR to anyone even though I knew how to.
Before you judge me, hear me out.
In my CPR class, I told my lecturer I would be too scared to help someone if they passed out and needed CPR because I wouldn’t want to break a rib if I did it wrongly. That was my reason and to me it was legitimate. But, he asked me a question that changed my point of view in life.
As much as we are not proud of it, a lot of us have been involved in a few of these situations but we just thought someone else would help.
My lecturer asked, which do you think is better; A broken rib that can heal with time or a dead person would be alive if you stepped up?
Since then, every time I find myself in a situation I do 3 things. I ask myself 3 questions;
- Am I in a position to help directly?
- If I am unable to help, who can I call to help?
- What happens if I decide to not help?
The third question is more like me trying to convince myself and even though this is not something I am 100% confident about, It makes me take action.
The difference here is, I have been showed that I can actually do something and I know what happens if I don’t. This is what most people need, they need to know that they have the power to do something.
I moved to England about one year ago and I just realized I didn’t know the emergency numbers. It means that, if I ever need help or someone around me needs help, everything would depend on google.
But, that has changed and this articles falls on these;
Be the one person that steps up. Be the person that lets down a hand, or calls for help when you can't.