Focus on Caring: The Spineless Bystander Effect

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Compassion facesOn July 7, 2014, I wrote an article Spineless inaction: the bystander effectan article that told the story of a female McDonald’s restaurant employee who was severely beaten by another woman.  No one called 911, no one tried to intervene, but everyone within a block of the beating took cell phone video of the attack.  That, my friends, is an example of spineless inaction.

I’m going to counter that horrific example with a rewarding one out of Buffalo, New York.

Darnell Barton, a bus driver in Buffalo, New York, was on his multi-trip route over a bridge on the expressway.  Ahead of him, he could see a woman standing over the railing on the ledge; the intent of this woman was obvious to anyone who observed her.  The entire episode was caught on the bus dashboard camera.

The bus driver saw two people who masterfully illustrated the bystander effect:

  • A 20-30 year old man who walked by the woman not even looking in her direction, certainly knowing her plight, but did nothing;
  • A bicyclist who rode by the woman, didn’t pause in his peddling, and didn’t pay notice to her whatsoever.

Darnell honked his bus horn at these two men trying to urge them into action but that was not to be.  With a bus full of passengers, he pulled over to the side, opened the bus door and asked the woman if she was okay.  She appeared to look toward him in acknowledgement of his question but did not say a word in response.

He then shut down the bus and walked toward the woman who was still precariously perched over the highway.  He said a few words to her along the lines of, “It won’t always be this bad.  You will come through this.”  Then, he reached over the railing, put his arm around her waist and lifted her over the railing to safety.

Wooden people assistanceBut he didn’t stop there.  He got on the ground with her and comforted her.  In the interim, emergency personnel had been called and when they arrived, they took over ministering to this true damsel in distress.

When interviewed, Darnell Barton referenced a passage from the Bible of being ready in season and out of season.  Then he said these words that will stick with me forever.

If you got the time to do anything, you got the time to do the right thing.

That is my hope for all of us today: stop being a bystander to the world that exists around you; stop perpetuating spineless inaction; do the right thing, because you may be the only one who will.

I hope you’ll read the first installment of my Focus on Caring series: Focus on Caring: Boundaries that constrain us.

5 thoughts on “Focus on Caring: The Spineless Bystander Effect

    […] this mini-series and will read the previous Focus on Caring posts: Boundaries that constrain us; The spineless bystander effect; Looking for trouble; The ties that bind […]


    […] Focus on Caring: Boundaries that constrain us; Focus on Caring: The Spineless Bystander Effect […]


    Jill Weatherholt said:
    September 8, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Excellent article, Irene. In the age of cell photos with video cameras, it’s a sad state of affairs, when one chooses to video an incident, rather than help.

    Liked by 1 person

    dtph33 said:
    September 8, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Great piece…good timing…thanks for this one. I live outside of Buffalo in a suburban community and remember this story on our local news. This gentleman taught all of us a lesson about caring for others.


      boomer98053 responded:
      September 8, 2015 at 2:55 pm

      How delightful that from Washington State to New York, this story provides all of us with a lesson we would all be advised to follow. Thank you for your comment! Makes me feel good to make others feel good. I hope you’ll come back next Tuesday for another installment of Focus on Caring, I think you’ll like it as well.


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