Attention to apathy

Image by Joel McCarthy

Why bystander blaming is far from the solution

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. March 10, 2015

Mind your own business and stand up for what is right. Those two contradicting sentiments have led to many problems over the years as they’ve supplied fuel for revolutions and weakness towards authorities. We blame children for letting their peers get bullied; yet we punish them for confronting their demons. It’s a messy world and while awareness may be a method to clean things up, calling out people for not lending a hand is just poison to ourselves.

When it comes to the bystander effect and how we are moulded by it, I often bring up the example of a car accident. You are in a car and the vehicle ahead of you in the next lane merges, striking another car, and careens to the edge of the road. Do you a) stop and assist or b) continue driving? Most of us would like to think that we would choose the first option. It seems like the most reasonable choice, however, less than half of all people in that position would actually stop and help. With every passing moment the likelihood of help from bystanders decreases, and the more public the incident, the less likely anyone will assist at all.

But what does help really mean? We are not professionally trained; we are not a part of an emergency response unit. Should we make a situation worse, we can ultimately be hit with a lawsuit. There is a clear reason why being a bystander often makes sense. We don’t actually know what is happening or the level of severity.

Physical altercations and bullying are two scenarios people love to blame on bystanders for playing the part of spectators. I don’t know if you have ever jumped into a middle of a fistfight before, but it isn’t as easy as removing a magnet from the fridge. In a moment of intensity, people can be unpredictable. You never know if someone is hiding a weapon or is capable of doing physical harm. Social injustice is worth sticking up for, but two drunken people arguing on Granville is none of your business. Get the hell out of there.

Yes, if I was in a dire situation, I would want someone to save me, but would I ever blame a stranger for not stepping in to protect me? I sure hope not. We are all bystanders in someone else’s life. Everybody has problems and some rise to the surface like sweat. You cannot expect people to wipe it off for you.

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