Spineless inaction: the bystander effect

Posted on Updated on

Courageous or spineless? Our actions, or inactions, decide | Opinion | The Seattle Times.

“Someone else will step in.”

“My God, this is horrible; someone should really do something!”

That someone is you and me.

from "The Colors and Letters of Jen Elek and Jeremy Bert" (Seattle)
from “The Colors and Letters of Jen Elek and Jeremy Bert” (Seattle)

In the attached article from today’s Seattle Times newspaper, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, Leonard Pitts Jr., poses a question that all of us should readily be able to answer.  If you see someone in need of help, do you wait for someone else to do the right thing, or do you step in?  Do you need to look to other people, watching the same emergency situation as you, to receive the correct “cue” as to what is required of you?  No, each of us should assume that if I don’t help this person, no one else will.  That’s what Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged us to do when, during one of his speeches, he relayed the story of the Good Samaritan from the Bible.

Pardon my paraphrase, but his message went something like this:

When I happen upon someone in obvious need of assistance, instead of hesitating and wondering what will happen to me if I render assistance, I should be asking myself, “What will happen to this person if I don’t stop and help?”

Some needs are obvious as detailed in one of the stories in Mr. Pitts’ article: Just outside of a New Jersey McDonald’s restaurant, a female McDonald’s worker was savagely beaten by a co-worker who was upset because the other woman gossiped about her.  During the beating, no one stepped in to help.  While the crowd exclaimed over what they saw – and even took photos and videos of the beating – the only person who came to this victim’s aide was her two-year old son who did what he could to get the mean woman off of his mommy.  Not one person at this McDonald’s eatery called 911.  I encourage you to read Mr. Pitts’ account to learn the outcome of this story.

Some needs aren’t as evident: in the heat of a summer’s day, you see an elderly man walking down the street when you leave the house to do some errands, and on your return trip a couple hours later, this same elderly man is sitting on a boulder at the side of the road – a bewildered look upon his face.  That’s when you need to trust your gut.  You say to yourself, “This isn’t right.  This guy must be lost and most certainly could be dehydrated,” and so you pull over the car.  I wrote an article last summer on this very subject matter, Trust your gut!, resultant from an experience that reinforced my belief that if something feels wrong, it is wrong.

Whether a need is obvious or not-so-obvious, you’re the someone who needs to step up to meet that need.  Life is too precious to be an apathetic bystander.

4 thoughts on “Spineless inaction: the bystander effect

    […] written about this topic before: Positive community activism; Spineless inaction: the bystander effect; Your positive imprint on […]


    […] July 7, 2014, I wrote an article Spineless inaction: the bystander effect, an article that told the story of a female McDonald’s restaurant employee who was severely […]


    […] written about this topic before: Positive community activism; Spineless inaction: the bystander effect; Your positive imprint on […]


    […] evolving crime scenes, such as the one that took place outside of a New Jersey McDonald’s restaurant (Mr. Pitts wrote an Opinion piece on that incident as well, see attached link, to which I also […]


Leave a Reply to Don’t take selfies in Auschwitz | Opinion | The Seattle Times | Baby Boomers and More Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.