Everyone eventually runs into a situation in which a very inconvenient but necessary question demands to be answered: Should I intervene, or simply walk away? Most choose to intervene—at least, when asked individually. However, the same people whose answers ensured the moral, fearless confrontation of a problem falter in their decision when the dilemma actually presents itself. “Of course I would intervene,” you may say, “what kind of horrible person would ignore a violent murder, an unconscious man in the streets, or a child abduction in broad daylight?” Statistically however, the immediacy of a real dilemma is so intensively frightening that a lack of action cannot possibly be blamed. Our innate desire to fit in is too overwhelming. “Nobody’s helping. Maybe it’s not my business. He’s probably fine, and she’ll probably be saved. I mean, there are so many people here, I don’t have to be the one to step in, because somebody else most definitely will.”
But they don’t.
The bystander effect is an appalling product of a natural yearning for acceptance and social conformity. It’s an interesting aspect of social psychology that may clarify why people are often reluctant to stand up for oneself and for others, defend social justice, or pursue moral choices: “well, nobody else is doing anything, why should I?” and this mindset is exactly the problem. The bystander effect defines itself as the inversely proportional correlation between the chances of receiving help and the number of people present and available to proffer aid to one in need. The thought process of one who walks away from such a situation can be divided into two categories: The diffusion of responsibility and simple peer pressure.
If this is not the case, one is likely encumbered by the instilled need to conform to those around him. Today’s society is largely veered towards a culture that rejects outcasts and demands consensus, however wrong the decision or perspective of the majority may be. Especially prominent in teenagers and young adults, the effects of peer pressure impose a negative influence on peoples’ opinions and thoughts. For example, not many are courageous enough to say “NO!” when all of his peers say “YES,” and most people are concerned with how their failure to agree with their peers’ opinions will cost them a loss in social relations or reputation. Similarly, public experiments regarding the bystander effect often found passersby first noticing an unconscious person on the ground, then instead of rushing to help, looking around to observe the reactions of other bystanders. General insouciance from the crowd often dissuaded the need to call for help, and the passersby left the unconscious person without taking moral action.
Another possible factor may be the ambiguity of harm. After all, one has absolutely no idea whether intervening in a violent fist fight or violence will result in one’s own victimization, or whether such an act may put one’s safety or even life in peril. After all, “better safe than sorry.” While completely justifiable, this fear of physical harm should not impede one from taking action. As solutions to situations differ case by case, there is also a spectrum of choices one can make in a dilemmatic situation. For instance, one may choose to phone the police or an ambulance instead of stepping in directly. One may physically impede further violence. One may gather awareness. Many people prize their own safety as a priority over that of others, but a fear of potential harm should not stop one from taking other forms of action.
So take action.
I’m not saying to go barging into gang fights and spamming the police and hospital in a reckless intervention spree, but to try to resist peer pressure and take responsibility for what needs to be done. You may not be entitled to such a responsibility, but become a leader and take it; an interesting fact about the bystander effect is that once one—even just a single one—person reaches a hand out to help, everyone who was so indifferent until just moments ago starts to swarm around to offer all the help and aid in the world. Take the first step. Don’t let others’ behaviors inflict a change on yours. Don’t be discouraged by disagreement, but proudly voice your opinions, and encourage others to follow your lead instead.
All you need to do, and all that those in need truly need, is for you to take action.
Article by Ricky Shin