A two year old child is hit by a van, and then a second van, and then passed by several motorists. No one stops to help. A woman sees the child and runs to her rescue. She is a hero.
This is actually took place in China, a place where innocent by standers fear helping others because of the possible negative consequences (for example – a man helped a woman who fell off a bus and was later accused of pushing her, sued and found partially guilty). An elderly man fell in a market and suffocated from a nose bleed because those around him would not take him to the hospital, he was transported an hour after the fall when a family member finally arrived at the scene.
Some anthropologist blame this on the “bystander effect.” This theory proposes that in an emergency event, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that anyone will actually help. This is generally because no one else looks concerned. The bystanders will go through a five step process during which they decide to do nothing.
- Notice the event (or in a hurry and not notice).
- Realize the emergency (or assume that as others are not acting, it is not an emergency)
- Assume responsibility (or assume that others will do this)
- Know what to do (or not)
- Act (or worry about danger, legislation, embarrassment, etc.)
In the case of the two year old girl in China, when she was finally helped, other bystanders refused to help the woman providing the child assistance. They told her she was better off to not help and stay out of it. In life, how often do we choose to “stay out of it”? How often do we dismiss the subtle requests for help we hear? How often to we think that someone else will handle it? This article reminded me that we can act as bystanders in a number of ways, not simply in emergencies. Today, listen closer to those around you, someone just might need your help.
UPDATE: October 21, 2011
The toddler, Want Yue, has passed away from injuries sustained from the hit and run. More reason to consider the implications of your actions, or lack of action.