Let me share a little story about my day.
This morning, as I’m in the shower getting ready for my day, I find a little black spot on my stomach…a deer tick. I quickly hop out of the shower, dripping wet and still soapy, go to the hall closet, dig out the tick kit, and get the little bugger off me. Having suffered from Lyme disease before, I didn’t want to wait one second to remove the thing.
I call my doctor to see if there’s anything that I should do. I’m told to come in that afternoon, and I do.
As I pull into the parking lot, an old woman calls me to her car. Every car door is open, including the trunk. By the truck sits an empty wheelchair, presumably the old woman’s. When I approach the car, I can see that a younger woman is passed out in the driver’s seat. The old woman says she needs help. I ask her if she wants an ambulance, she says she doesn’t know. I tell her that I’ll go inside and tell someone she needs help, and I let the receptionist know.
I go in for my appointment as the receptionist goes out to check on the people in the car. When I get out, an ambulance is outside, dealing with the passed out woman, who happens to be diabetic. I also learn that the women have been in the car for TWO HOURS. Apparently the old woman had been trying to get someone to help, since she couldn’t walk and get help herself. Unfortunately, the people going in and out of the offices ignored her pleas. I don’t know how many people passed her car in that time, but not a single person stopped to help her.
As I look at our world today, I see more and more examples of others forgetting that we are all human beings. There is distain for people not “like us.” I’ve seen rich people spit on the poor, white people condemn blacks, straights complain about gays, and vice versa. There is no monopoly on hatred and callousness in this world. And even if it’s not about hatred, we just fail to see beyond our own iPhones. Anything that happens outside of ourselves just isn’t seen.
This small situation I found myself in really brought this home for me. I don’t know how many people ignored this woman. I don’t know how many people chose not to take the two minutes it required to call for help. I don’t think I did anything special, but I guess I did because so many people thanked me for doing it. From the receptionist at the doctor’s office to the police who answered the call, everyone seemed impressed with me. This bothered me even more because it should not be seen as something special. I saw someone in trouble and I helped. That’s it. It took nothing from me but a few minutes of my time. And I could have saved a life. It is something that I think everyone should be willing to do, but apparently I was wrong with that.
It reminds me of a situation I had several years ago. On my way to work, I saw a car off the road and halfway in a ditch on a two-lane highway, so I stopped, as did one other person, to see if the person in the car needed help. The man in the car said he was okay and called for a tow already, so I went on my way. When I got to work and told my story to a coworker, she was flabbergasted that I would stop.
“Weren’t you afraid that the guy would hurt you?” she asked. “You know, you could have been hurt. You should never stop to help anyone. I can’t believe you were so reckless!” I just looked at her for a while. To this day, I still don’t see how asking to help another human being is reckless.
Unfortunately, not helping other people is not uncommon, and has been studied by psychologists. Two different phenomenon have been studied. The first is called the bystander effect. This is a psychological theory that says people are less likely to aid someone else if other people are present. It could happen in a situation where several people witness a horrible accident but no one calls 911 because they assume someone else will. In this situation, people walk by the car and ignore the old woman, assuming that someone else will stop and help her. They feel that they don’t have to take any responsibility and ease their mind by saying someone else will. Same with seeing a driver in distress on the road: they assume someone else will stop so they don’t need to. The justification makes them feel better and assuage their guilt, but the truth is, they really don’t know what will happen.
The other phenomenon is called audience inhibition, which is the idea that you aren’t likely to help someone else because you are afraid of being judged harshly if you do help. In this particular situation, maybe someone will judge a person harshly for calling 911 if the woman didn’t really need that kind of assistance. Their fear of being judged overrides their human capacity for compassion. Both of these effects cause people to not act in an emergency situation. People don’t really want to get involved. People don’t want to make a mistake. People are afraid of looking foolish, so choose to do nothing at all. Or, people could be so self-absorbed that they don’t think the pain of another person is worthy of their time. Whatever the reason, we really need to evaluate what we believe and whether our actions truly represent what we think we believe.
Everyone I have talked to says, “I wouldn’t do this. I would help.” But how many people who walked by that old woman have said that to themselves in the past, and probably still say it today? It’s worth truly pondering what we would really do given the circumstances to help another.
As you walk around today, think about yourself. How would you feel if you came upon a situation where someone else may need help? Would you lend a hand, or would you be too busy or too scared to do so? Would you call 911? Do you drop a dollar in the bucket of a beggar on the sidewalk? When a friend or acquaintance calls for a favor, do you help or do you try to get out of it? When push comes to shove, are you really willing to help another person?
These are important questions for the future of our world. As people get the feeling that we have lost the sense of community, that we have lost compassion and empathy for others, we need to be the change that we want to see. We need to be the ones to lend a hand, offer a kind word, or inform someone that a person needs help. When it comes down to it, are you truly willing to help?