We all see and hear things in our everyday life where we have an urge to act. We know that what we are seeing or hearing is a problem that needs our attention — needs us to act. Yet, too many times, we don't. We stay silent, walk away, watch, laugh along, even participate. Yet, we don't fulfill our urge to be a hero in that moment. Why don't we?
Some Notable Everyday Stories
In June 2008, a woman collapsed in a Brooklyn hospital waiting room, but was ignored by other people present in the room and two security guards. People tried to help her only after an hour had passed. The woman died.
In April 2010, Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax was stabbed to death in New York City after coming to the aid of a woman who was being attacked by a robber. Yax was on the sidewalk for more than an hour before firefighters arrived. Almost twenty-five people walked by while he lay dying on a sidewalk in Queens, several stared at Yax; one of them took pictures, however none of them helped or called emergency services.
In October 2011, a two-year-old girl, Wang Yue, was hit by a small, white van in the city of Foshan, China, then run over by a large truck when she was not moved by bystanders. A total of 18 people ignored her, some going so far as to walk around the blood, and the girl was left for 7 minutes before a recycler, Chen Xianmei, picked up the toddler and called for help.
Why don't we intervene?
The answer to this question is critical as we seek to create organizations and environments which foster health and social justice, where the deeper values of the organizations are expressed in action, thus making clear to the rest of the world our strengths and what we have to offer the greater community.
There are situations in our everyday life that require someone's intervention. As you think of these situations in your life, ask yourself these question:
- When have I been a bystander?
- What bothered me about the situation?
- What kept me from doing something?
- How did I feel afterwards?
Of all the reasons we don't intervene, we can whittle it down to five main barriers to intervention:
- Social influence — don't see others doing anything, so it must not be a problem
- Fear of embarrassment — of yourself or others
- Diffusion of responsibility — assuming someone else will do something
- Fear of retaliation — fear of physical and/or emotional harm, lack of support, and negative reactions
- Pluralistic ignorance — misperceiving others' concern and desire for intervention
The Bystander Effect
Research suggests that the presence of other people inhibits the desire to help in an exponential fashion. For example, one person is more likely to help when alone, two bystanders are more likely to intervene than when there are three, etc. In studies of individuals witnessing emergencies, for example, 55% of individuals offered help when alone, while only 22% did so in a group. Thus, incorrect beliefs about how others view the situation and whether they define it as a problem may cause individuals to inhibit healthy behavior. As we become aware of these thought processes within ourselves we can correct them when they are based on misinformation or false assumptions, and knowing that our concerns are shared by others, thereby increasing the likelihood that we will express our concerns in action.
More recent research on bystander behavior provides good news about the potential for creating environments that will encourage individuals to intervene. This research suggests that individuals are more likely to intervene when they participate in a cohesive group that communicates and develops shared norms about intervening. This more recent research leads to the optimistic conclusion that participating in training and consciousness raising experiences — such as the RESPONSE ABILITY Project — can help to reduce bystander inaction by fostering cohesive groups that share norms and actions that will support those who are willing to intervene.
The Three Tools to Bystander Intervention (T3)
1. TARGET PROBLEM
While this may seem obvious at first, consider there are problems happening around you that are not being identified as problems. This requires being present, being aware, and thinking from your values. When you are coming from your values — and seeing or hearing what is around you through your values, you will powerfully be able to distinguish a problem as a problem and then proceed to the next tool. What will have you not identify a problem, as a problem, is your set of excuses, explanations, justifications and reasons. Even when you know something is a problem. In that moment, whatever is happening becomes "just the way it is" and "just the way life is."
2. TRANSCEND BARRIERS
The moment you identify a problem as a problem, you will immediately have a thought — a very powerful thought that might have you freeze, stay silent or even walk away. It is that powerful of a thought. This tool requires that we simply identify the thought, as a thought, and GO BEYOND that thought. Go beyond the barrier to intervention (listed above). Don't let that thought diminish the problem and have you turn your back on making the difference. This is simple. Yet, it's not always easy. This takes courage.
3. TAKE ACTION!
Now that you have identified the problem and gone beyond the barrier, you want to now take some kind of action. In many situations, this doesn't require a big action with high drama and emotion. It can be simple yet powerful. It could be calling 9-1-1. It could be having a conversation — then or later. It could mean changing the subject. It could also mean direct confrontation. Be safe. Be responsible. And, take some kind of action — big or small — to make the difference in the situation and for those impacted.
To download the handout of these three tools, click here.
It's simple. Yet, it's not easy.
While all of this is very logical and even very simple, there are many times that intervening and doing the right thing is not easy. Sometimes, the experience is that you are "just going to die!" You feel like you are jeopardizing everything you have. And, in reality, you might be.
Only you can make the choice to intervene or not. And, once you do, only you can make the choice whether or not to keep intervening if the problem didn't get resolved. There is nothing you want more than to be a hero for someone, an organization or an issue you care about. Doing something heroic involves risk and requires that you go beyond your comfort zone and do something, say something to make the difference in that critical moment of time. Be safe. Be responsible.
Finally, if you don't think your actions will make a difference, that they aren't big enough — come from the eyes of the victim. What would he/she want you to do? There's your choice.
It's simple. It's just not easy.
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