The Bystander Effect

I grew up in a house with 5 other siblings. Needless to say, there were always opportunities to get into trouble. I mean, even when you weren’t trying, you could wind up on the wrong side of my mother’s flying slipper.

For instance, my brothers could be ready to burn the house down while my mother was gone and if I were to report their bad behavior to her when she got home, she’d still hit me with,

“Oh yeah? And what were you doing while it was happening?”

It kinda makes me wonder… When we tell our kids about what we lived through and when we explain to them how the world got to be the way it is, will our children question us the way my mom questioned me.

“What were you doing while _________________ was happening?”

I know, I know… I just got off my soapbox about allowing people to process in silence and not pressuring people to be vocal on social media. Let me assure you that today’s post doesn’t contradict that at all. I’m not intending to pressure you or make you feel overwhelmed with anxiety. I stand by my opinion that social media is a platform for whatever you want it to be. Speak or don’t speak. I only want to suggest to you that we are not innocent simply because we are not actively destroying the world around us. Instead, we are guilty when we stand by and watch.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the action steps look like for you. What I do know is that we don’t get brownie points for standing still.

What were you doing while racism happened?

What were you doing while gender discrimination happened?

What were you doing while entire people groups were being dehumanized based on their religious affiliation?

I don’t think there is much to brag about when we’re not directly responsible for bad things that happen. Even when it doesn’t involve us or directly affect us, I think there is a responsibility that comes with being able to help. My opinion is that we ought to get involved when bad things happen. Because the flip side of that is we become spectators to something that is far from a game or entertainment.

We have become awesome reporters.

We’ve excelled in the art of filming horrific events in real time.

We have become extraordinary bystanders.

Has anyone considered that there’d probably be less to film if we put our cameras down and got involved? How many fight videos have we seen go too far because everyone filmed it and no one stopped it?

I don’t know. Perhaps I’ve got it wrong. Lately, I’ve just been very concerned about what I will tell my children I was busy with while ___________ was happening.

By the way, The bystander effect, or bystander apathy, is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders.


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