Ah, bystanders… If you’ve ever been present during a fight in school, you know that there’s usually ALWAYS a group of looky-loos who will stand around and watch things play out. Even if one of the combatants happen to be a bully and seems to be overwhelming the other, people will usually just stand and watch as opposed to stepping in and helping or breaking them up.
This phenomenon is known as the Bystander Effct, and in simple terms it refers to a social theory where people likely won’t help someone (even if they need it) if there are other people there with them. Part of the concept is that most people are likely to believe that someone else will step in, making them hesitate to step in and help, themselves. These days, the big problem is that the majority of people are obsessed with whipping out their fucking cell phones and filming what they see in the interest of posting it on the internet as opposed to helping their fellow man/woman.
According to an article I found posted by Psychology Today, “the bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation, against a bully, or during an assault or other crime. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is for any one of them to provide help to a person in distress. People are more likely to take action in a crisis when there are few or no other witnesses present.”
The article goes on to explain the perception of diffusion of responsibility and what influence society has on a person. Also, some people may choose not to react in response to fear, believing that intervening could lead to an increased level of danger against themselves. Depending on where you live, some people also have the fear of liability if they intervene, with the prospect of getting sued, buzzing at the back of their minds. While many places in North America have no legal obligation for someone to step in and help, there are places that have adopted “duty-to-rescue” laws, making it illegal to simply sit and watch if someone is in distress.
Last but not least, as I mentioned earlier, we live in world of social media and the internet. This has had an increased impact on the Bystander Effect, since most people are more likely to whip out their phones and record an incident than get involved. Another aspect is many people will avoid getting involved BECAUSE they fear it being documented on the internet. Chicken and the egg. But I if you Google “bystander effect,” you’ll find tons of examples where someone has been in distress and even in mortal danger, where others have simply recorded with their phones or sat back and done nothing.
So, how does one break this spell? Well, the ideal thing is to assume you’ll be the only one to do something. Then do it. Even if that only means using verbal intervention and yelling at the aggressor. As I always say, anything is something more than nothing. But from strictly a moral standpoint, it’s important for one to consider that if one was stuck in the same situation as they’re witnessing, they would likely appreciated someone helping out. Could there be legal ramifications? Yes, there could. But at the end of the day, if it means everyone gets to go home to their loved ones, any other challenge can be overcome. Food for thought… ☯️