Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bystander behavior

Sorry for the quiet time... we recently had a family vacation for 2 weeks, then a medical issue that took up another week. Then after that my job issued some new computer policies which include not posting things on a website from the office, not even during breaks, when I tend to write to recharge my batteries.

The other day I came the following article in the Washington Post. (I believe the Post removed requirements of having to register to read an article. Sorry if they haven't.)

The basic summary of it is that a lot of times, when people witness an event (a few are given in the article: a woman collapses in a hospital waiting room, and a man is hit by a car when crossing a street, both of these events were caught on video, as well as the bystanders doing nothing) they tend to do nothing, except maybe call 911. Other than that, they don't want to get involved or help. As I was reading the article, I thought "I wouldn't have done that, I would have at least gone over to check on the person." But then the article stated: "Although we might think otherwise, most of us would not have behaved much differently from the people we see in these recent videos." It goes on to quote various sociologists and psychologists, and discusses "Bystander Behavior."

That forced me to think back to events I witnessed and my behavior then. Once I was returning to college after a bad week of chicken pox. I was just cleared to return by my doctor, and still had marks all over me. I was in Grand Central Station, transferring trains pretty late at night. There was a beggar there, in a wheel chair. A group of tough looking guys in their late teens or early twenties came over and started abusing the man, pushing him around unwillingly, prying him off when he would grab on to a signpost or something. I looked around, but didn't see any police in the area. I wasn't familiar with the train station, and didn't have a clue of what to do. Finally the people left the man alone and went to find something else to do. Another time I was on the DC Metro Rail line. A woman standing near me suddenly collapsed on the floor. My brain didn't even seem to register what happened, I was just looking around trying to figure out what was going on. In the meanwhile another woman bent down to hold the first one's head, and someone else called the train operator. When we arrived at the next station, a few people got off with the woman, and I saw them as we pulled out, standing with her, making sure she was okay. Why didn't I think of any of that.

Then again, there were some times when I tried to do something. I was in a shopping mall, and it looked like two kids were fighting. They were throwing kicks and punches back and forth. I saw a security guard and told him. He checked it out. When he came back, he said the kids were just goofing around. I felt my face flush, maybe I shouldn't have said anything. But then there was another time, I was riding my motorcycle and saw a rider pulled over on the left shoulder with his bike. I was a few lanes over, and couldn't make it to him safely. I thought about it, and decided to backtrack. I rode back to a previous exit, turned around, and this time I made sure I was in the left lane, and was able to pull up to him in the shoulder. His bike had broken down, and he didn't have a cell phone. I asked if he'd like a ride to the next exit, I could drop him off at a gas station with a phone. He said he had a friend with a pickup truck two exits down, could I drop him off there? It wasn't far from where I was going anyway, so I took him on the back of my bike and he guided me to his friend's place.

So I don't know, I guess given a little time to think, I can break the bystander behavior. Then again, the article states that if people are alone, they are more likely to come to someone else's aid. It also states "Real heroes are the ones who break out of the group norm."

Still, I hope I remember some of this if I'm ever in a situation like this again, and maybe get off my tush and actually do something.

No comments: