Being an active bystander

25 06 2009

The quote on my reusable Lululemon bag says “The world is changing at such a rapid rate that waiting to implement changes will leave you 2 steps behind.  Do it now, do it now, do it now!”  Having seen this several times on a daily basis for the past couple days since I’ve gotten the bag and started using it, I immediately thought of this quote when I read Breaking the Bystander Effect.

The Bystander Effect is something we are all familiar with and a position that we’ve all been in at some point or another throughout our lives.  It’s the idea that the larger the people population or presence, the less likely each individual person is to help out someone who needs help or is in distress.  So when we’re in a big crowd of people, or if there are just a fair amount of people around, we are less likely to take action to help someone who is in an emergency situation and needs help because we assume that someone else will do it, which is technically called the diffusion of responsibility.

The problem with this?  When everyone thinks that someone else is going to do something to help, no one will do anything because someone else will do it instead.  I’ve blogged about this before but it’s worth reiterating, there will always be perpetrators and there will always be victims.  By not upstanding in situations (and being a passive bystander waiting for someone else to do something), we are acting as accomplices to perpetrators.  So we can choose to take a proactive stance and be active bystanders and do our part in reducing or countering the violence in society, or we can be apathetic and passive bystanders.

Like the quote on my bag says, there is no time to wait for someone else to do it – do it now, do it now, do it now!  There’s no time for apathy.  There’s no time for inaction.  Life is too short for that.  But since so many of us fall victim to the bystander effect, how can we get ourselves out of that mindset and frame of thought in order to start taking more proactive steps to transform our culture of violence?

J gives us three tips:

  1. If you know what to do, do it. Just being aware of the existence of the Bystander Effect makes you far more likely to be able to break free of it. Don’t let fear take over, don’t assume someone else knows what they’re doing better than you – just act. (The good news is, if you take the first step, people are likely to see you taking actions to help and break through their hesitation as well. Its much easier to jump in to a situation when you’re not taking the first step.)
  2. If you don’t know what to do or can’t do it yourself, be directive. Calling people out as individuals breaks them from the group mentality and reminds them of their own personal responsibility.
  3. You could always try yelling “BYSTANDER EFFECT”