Read This, Not That

Or I should say, “Read These, Not Those.”

One Penny:

The Bystander Effect.  Most of us know it as not helping a fellow human being who has called out for help or appears to be in physical distress when there are numerous observers.  As Natlee75 remarks, however, it could be as simple as not speaking the truth…and as serious as a recent headline news story. The entry may be too frontal cortex-heavy for anyone who needs a shot of espresso before doing any critical thinking in the morn, but it really got me juggling two opposing viewpoints, which Natlee75 touches upon in two paragraphs in the bottom of his post.

To re-phrase, how can man be so evolved intellectually and philosophically but then succumb to altruistic paralysis when someone is in need of help?  What is more unfortunate, to be in duress and manage to garner an audience of more than two? Or for every person that walks by to keep on walking?  A list of possible explanations suggests that the number of people around is irrelevant.

No good deed goes unpunished.  In the escalating adrenaline of the moment, fear as well as good intentions could very likely override a person’s ability to analyze the potential consequences of his actions.  So, if you decide you are going to help, say, a car accident victim, and for some reason don’t just call 911 and  get as close to the mangled car as possible and keep the injured individual talking.  If, instead, you choose to take it upon your non-rescue-trained self to really do something, your help could do more harm than you thought.  This man learned the hard way.

If we agree that reality is varying shades of gray (rather than black-and-white), whether or not you help your fellow man and the extent to which you offer assistance would necessarily be assessed on a case by case basis.  Ideally, you’d be able to make that choice without fear of guilt or prosecution.  Moreover, there’s a scale of helpful/harmful behaviors and actions contextualized with degree of consequence.

On one side, there is Good Intentions Gone Horribly Wrong, on the other side is Received With Much Gratitude, and in the middle is No Actions Taken.  Generally, helping someone bring in their groceries or opening a door or holding their place in line would be on the side between No Actions Taken and Received With Much Gratitude.  It’s more of a favor.  Yet, I imagine that you can conceptualize a situation in which carrying someone’s groceries to their car would result in something regrettable.

Any act that is meant to relieve another person’s pain, no matter the context, could go either way.  The person in pain could be supremely appreciative or irate…depending on whether or not the aid you facilitated or administered ultimately produced favorable or unfavorable results.

I’d like to think that there’s a meta-balancing act between the multiple pendulums that govern human interactions.  Those individuals that are afraid to ask for help vs. those individuals that don’t want to get involved.  Think about all the people that you know and who have ever been the victim of someone else’s deception, violence, manipulation, inconsideration, or all of the above.  How many of them confronted the wrong-doer?  How many of them filed a police report and pressed charges if applicable?  Now, think of all the people you know that wouldn’t hesitate to “do something,” anything if they were to witness an illegal act happening in their line of sight?  Which list is longer?


Two Penny: Brian Westbrook’s Monday concussion.

Three Penny: More Coke in Atlanta.

Four Penny: NBA Digital deal.

Five Penny: The Leaves on the trees are falling.

4 thoughts on “Read This, Not That

  1. natlee75

    Your post is very thoughtful and equally well-written. I’m glad to say that amongst my circle of friends, more people are willing to do something. I suppose that most people can’t say the same thing while being truly honest to themselves.

    Your examples touch upon quite a few psychological phenomena that explain (or at least try to explain) the reasons why some people succumb to the bystander effect.

    Many people look for validation of what the right course of action is, a social psychological phenomenon known as social proof. They are hesitant about what they should do so they look to others to see how they react to the situation – if all they see is people standing around doing nothing (which is sadly what they would see most of the time), they assume that this means no intervention is necessary.

    There are also people afraid to suffer potential consequences of their actions. Perhaps someone with a superior knowledge of the situation will step on their toes. Perhaps they’ll be judged by people who think they’re not “helping the right way.” Perhaps their lack of knowledge will result in harm being done to the person in need (as in your referenced story about the man being sued for paralyzing a woman he was trying to rescue). All these are factors that can contribute.

  2. sittingpugs Post author

    Thank you so much for your response!

    Many people look for validation of what the right course of action is, a social psychological phenomenon known as social proof.

    Is social proof related to what happens when two or more people do something in the presence of others…more people will copy them? I read about it in a sociology class when I was an undergrad; the example the textbook gave was to go outside and look up at the sky. If you and at least one other person do it, whoever sees you looking up at the sky will do it too.

    I’ve tried it many times..and it’s true.

    Wow, and now I’m wondering two things:

    1. Are people more likely to stop and help an injured animal on the side of the road than a stranded motorist?

    2. If an injured person were to say, “Excuse me, sir, can you do me a favor? Can you call 911, my cell phone died and I seem to have gotten into a car accident/can’t find my child or pet/am experiencing heart palpitations and I have a heart condition.”

    rather than

    “Can someone help me please?! Hey, hey! Call 911!”

    would he or she have more luck?

  3. The Lady22

    Very thoughtful post Stina. I like when you change it up every once in a while and show us a different side of your intellectual genius 🙂

    I think if people see no threat in themselves helping other then they will help. However, if it is in the least way inconvenient they will not. The only exception is when something heinous is happening and people are outraged at the example and have no fear for themselves. Like when people get upset about that Dominos pizza video and the guys joking about putting bodily fluids on it (even though they claim they would never have served the pizza). Which is yet another question, does outrage imply the willingness to act?


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