H.O.W.: The Bystander Effect and How to Regain Our Humanity

Is It MY Duty to Care for Others?

It is a question visited by the world's most influential philosophers and average men alike. What do I owe my fellow man? Human beings have been questioning their moral obligations to one another for centuries. Theorists of the current modern temper suggest that we owe nothing at all to our fellow man. Consider the thoughts of America's first public intellectual from Emerson's Self Reliance:

"Do not tell me of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Published on the heels of the American Industrial Revolution, it became evident in the post Puritan 1800's that society's most profound influences were advocating a society in which each person looked out for himself only.

Bystanders can make a world of difference in bullying.
Bystanders can make a world of difference in bullying. | Source

The Bystander Effect

The Bystander Effect is a real psychological phenomenon in which people assume that someone else will step in to help a human or animal in need. A psychological theory of groups, the theory has proven that if more than one bystander is present at the scene of an emergency, neither of the bystanders will help as they assume someone else will step in to take care of the problem.

The assumption that someone else will provide assistance is labeled as the diffusion of responsibility. Some people in groups do not help others because they assume another person will take care of the problem. Other's feel that it is not their responsibility and don't intervene because they feel it is the duty of the police or other agency.

Does this photo make you feel uncomfortable or powerless?
Does this photo make you feel uncomfortable or powerless? | Source

Applying the Bystander Effect Globally

When applied globally, the bystander effect allows people all over the world to go about their daily lives without much consideration for those in need. Few people outside of a few humanitarian and Christian groups put real effort into feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, stopping abuse against children and animals, and fighting for human rights for those who have been denied theirs.

The Bystander Effect is a worldwide problem in which human beings do not worry about those in need because they assume that humanitarians of the the world will help the people that need it.

Sadly, not only do people worldwide lack the desire to help those in need, they shirk away from any situation that reminds them that their help is needed and they are just a few links away from those of need in the chain of human life. People avoid immersing themselves in tragic social issues because it makes them UNCOMFORTABLE and some find the discussion of such issues as a personal imposition upon them. We live in a world of apathy in which society ignores those in need as bystanders avoiding the discomfort of feeling compassion for others.

Sometimes people are not uncomfortable when faced with the harsh realities of the world we live in. Some feel a sense of powerlessness when confronted with sorrowful topics. There are situations in the world which are so severe, many feel there is nothing in the world they could possibly do to improve them. No one person on the planet can move these mountains alone, but every person in the world can contribute the slightest gesture and inspire another to do the same which could eventually make a big impact on the state of the world in which we live.

Bystanders in China watch as a man suffers a heart attack on the street.
Bystanders in China watch as a man suffers a heart attack on the street. | Source

Do You Support Laws to Protect Good Samaritans?

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Should Government Enforce Voluntary Socialism?

In the United States, Good Samaritan Laws protect those who go out of their way to help someone in need from erroneous litigation. For example, if a person does CPR on another and accidentally cracks the victim's rib, most courts would over look this because the helper acted with honorable intentions.

China is a country that does not have this law.

The Case of "Granny Zhang"

As originally reported in the Global Times in 2010, 77 year old "Granny Zhang" fell in the streets of China. She was quickly assisted by middle school student Wan Xin who attempted to help her stand. Immediately, Zhang started yelling out loud that Xin had harmed her. Xin's mother came to the scene, escorted Granny Zhang to the hospital, and paid $20,000 of Zhang's medical expenses. Upon her release, Zhang filed a lawsuit requesting Xin's mother pay an additional 30,483 Chinese dollars for the remainder of her expenses. Fortunately, Zhang's case was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Because there are no Good Samaritan Laws in China, the bystander effect is rampant. Chinese citizens fear helping others in need or danger simply because they fear being erroneously sued. China is now in the process of creating Good Samaritan Laws similar to the United States to protect those who assist others with the intent of helping them in an urgent state.

As demonstrated, the bystander effect is fueled by apathy, as well as the fear of being sued for stepping in to assist another. Sadly, the governments of countries are left to legislate these problems.

What Do We Owe Our Fellow Man?

As the most advanced species on this planet, humans are the only beings capable of altruistic behavior. For some, this is reason enough to believe that this alone creates the obligation and need to help others. Reaching out to help a human being is a personal decision for every individual. Do we owe anything at all to our fellow man? No. Are we morally obligated to help one another? We ARE if we make the decision to be.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant
Philosopher Immanuel Kant | Source

What Kind of World Do You Want to Live In?

It is no secret that our humanity is at stake in today's society. With so many tragic social situations in the world from poverty, hate crimes, wars, racism, murder, to greed, and so on, the evil in the world takes its toll and hardens even the softest hearts.

Every single one of us contributes to the environment in which we live. This is true on a micro level in our own homes to a global level in the impact our thoughts and actions leave on the world. We must each ask ourselves what kind of world do we want to live in? Are we going to bystanders as the fragments of our humanity decay further?

Philosopher Immanuel Kant says it best. Unless each individual CHOOSES to act in manner which benefits his fellow man, the world can be a treacherous place.

"We must impose the forms of space and time on all we perceive, we must suppose that the world we experience functions according to natural laws, we must regulate our conduct by reference to a self-legislated categorical imperative, and we must postulate the noumenal reality of ourselves, god, and free will—all because a failure to do so would be an implicit confession that the world may be meaningless, and that would be utterly intolerable for us."

~Immanuel Kant in "The Moral Order

Do You Feel Humans Should Help Their Fellow Man

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An experiment: Bystander Effect

How would the world be different in your hands?
How would the world be different in your hands? | Source

More by this Author


Comments 58 comments

btrbell profile image

btrbell 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

Great hub! And very necessary! So incredibly sad what we have become! You may have been "late to the party" but you've brought a lot to the table! Thank you for sharing! Up+


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Eloquently written, Tammy! This may be your best piece of writing in a long time, and not just because of the subject matter. This really is an excellent piece of writing.

Thank you for adding to the movement. I appreciate you greatly.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

Tammy, this is an amazing write here! Wow, this should pop some eyeballs open no doubt . . . at least one can only hope it will do so. Thanks for this incredible contribution to the H.O.W. movement.

Voted up +++ and sharing

God bless you. In His Love, Faith Reaper


Louisa Rogers profile image

Louisa Rogers 3 years ago from Eureka, California and Guanajuato, Mexico

Thank you for your helpful clarification of the Bystander Effect and the Good Samaritan Laws.

You make some sweeping statements that I disagree with. "Few people outside of a few humanitarian and Christian groups put real effort into feeding the hungry..." Hardly! Americans do give, quite liberally, and we reach out, at least to members of own society; we are below average in giving outside our own country. Read Peter Singer's book, The Life You can Save, for more data.

Also, humans are by no means the only altruistic species and I would argue we are not the most advanced, either. Chimpanzees, dolphins, mongeese, dogs and many other species show compassion and caring to their fellow members.


Louisa Rogers profile image

Louisa Rogers 3 years ago from Eureka, California and Guanajuato, Mexico

I had one more comment that I did not have time to include. It is not just Christian groups that donate. People of all religious faiths are equally generous with their time and money.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Tammy......Good one!! YES!....the bystander issue. So very important to present and discuss. Thank you for being so "on the ball," and sharing this with us. Extremely well-written and presented Tammy. I must second all your thoughts and suggestions!! ,....UP+++


alocsin profile image

alocsin 3 years ago from Orange County, CA

Unfortunately, when I encounter an emergency I tend to freeze. I think one way to get over the bystander effect is to participate in large groups, like charitable organizations, that organize methods to help others. Voting this Up and Interesting.


carol7777 profile image

carol7777 3 years ago from Arizona

I know about people who have help others and gotten in trouble. I hear in New York people laying on the street and people walking by. It is pretty amazing that we cannot help our fellow man without fear of getting in trouble. Thanks for sharing this valuable hub.


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks so much for reading btrbell. I believe in this cause. :)


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks so much for reading billybuc. You have inspired me to contribute to the movement with your passion and enthusiasm. It is my pleasure.


Lord De Cross profile image

Lord De Cross 3 years ago

Excellent presentation. Kant is truly right, and I think our U.S. is in big time trouble if we apply this to every one of us. Thanks for the research and lots of food for thought in here!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks for reading and commenting fpherj48!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

That is understandable Alocsin. In medical emergencies, I think most of us freeze because we don't want to do more harm. Most of us know just enough about emergency situations to be dangerous. Other situations in which people are upset or angry make me freeze. Your suggestion is excellent!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks for reading Ms. Carol!


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 3 years ago from Idaho

Granted I've only read a few H.O.W. Hubs I have loved reading every one of them. When so much in the world seems to be in chaos there are beautiful people like Tammy who have shown that humanity is not completely lost. Voted up and beautiful : )


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks so much Lord De Cross!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thank you for your warm comment Jennifer. :) It is much appreciated.


AudraLeigh 3 years ago

Just an amazing read! Got us to have a lot to think and talk about! Very articulate piece!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks so much for reading and commenting AudraLeigh!


Gypsy48 profile image

Gypsy48 3 years ago

Tammy you out did yourself on this excellent hub. Very thought provoking. It gives us a jolt that some of us need to get involved. Voted up and awesome.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

No, we are not responsible for anyone. HOWEVER, compassion does not mean responsible. Here's a perfect example. A guy from work was saying how sad it is that he is not allowed to give Christmas gifts to poor children at our workplace. It seems to me that people complain about the true meaning of Christmas via the religious aspects. Some people don't want to hear about religion, and therefore, their rights must be preserved. Tell that to a poor child that has nothing under the tree. How will they feel about holiday cheer?


midget38 profile image

midget38 3 years ago from Singapore

Tammy, meaningful and well done! I unfortunately came across a disturbing video of a little girl who was run over by a car. It was already bad that it was a case of hit and run....but the worst part was that no one stopped to help her at all. The bystander effect is more frightening than the actual perpetrated act itself sometimes because it comes across as more complacent and even more selfish. Thanks for sharing. I share this.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

This is a great addition to the HOW movement. I felt sick when the news reported that a man took a picture of the person who had been pushed on the subway track instead of trying to help. I think we have become an uncaring world toward our fellow neighbors. Hopefully through example we can change the bystander image. Thank you for sharing..


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks so much Gypsy48!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

You make some excellent points aviannovice. Many people around the world are punished for this exact reason. People are so easily offended during the holidays (since the word Christmas offends so many). Some are afraid to spread holiday cheer because they don't want to risk offending either the believers or non-believers. Sad, but true observation. Thanks for sharing that.


Michele Travis profile image

Michele Travis 3 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

Wow, what an amazing video. A few weeks ago, I took a CPR class that included an AED.( ( they start the heart electronically) I found out that last year a man had a hear attack in a mall, and the mall had an AED. Nobody helped the man except for a 6 year old boy. Someone brought the AED. The 6 year old boy was the one who save the man who had the heart attack. No one else. The AEDs tell you what to do, they are easy to understand. No adults tried to help. Just the 6 year old boy.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 3 years ago from United States

Beautifully written hub. The bystander effect is a great topic as it is so prevalent in our society and certainly human rights in countries like China are almost non-existent. Voted up and awesome.


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

That is frightening midget. It seems to be a problem all over the world. Thanks for reading!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks for your wonderful encouragement always exploring. :)


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

That is really sad. We can learn so much kindness from children when we get back to our innocent cores. That is heartbreaking. Thanks for reading.


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

It may be rough in the US sometimes Ms. Pamela, but I certainly wouldn't want to live in a country like that. Thanks so much for stopping by!


marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 3 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

Tammy,

This is a thoughtful and meaningful contribution to H.O.W.

You have generated an insightful comment stream with these thoughts as well.

Voted UP and UABI. Hugs, Maria


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks so much for reading Mar. This movement is such an inspiration!


Rosemay50 profile image

Rosemay50 3 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

An excellent hub and very thought provoking. The bystander effect is phenomenal in our society. Nobody seems to care anymore. Is it greed that initiated this, Have we become a society that will take advantage of any situation for money that people are too afraid to stop and help someone. Certainly the ‘Good Samaritan’ law is needed to protect those that are willing to assist. Hopefully other countries like China will one day follow the examples set.


Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

Sadly in this day and age of lawsuits around every corner, people really are not willing to help out as much. I can only hope that if something happened to me or my friends or family, someone would be there to help them out. Great eye opening hub! Voted. up


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks so much for reading and commenting Glimmer Twin Fan. It is a sad state the world is in.


Break of Dawn profile image

Break of Dawn 3 years ago

Thank you Tammy for an excellent written hub carrying an important message. It scares me to see this lack of compassion in people nowadays. Have we all become so indifferent and ignorant? Has the society made us so heartless and brutal? I feel that so many people have become so self-centered, not giving a damn what's happening to anyone else. It's such an ugly trait. Voted up, sharing and awesome.


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks so much for reading Break of Dawn!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

Hi tammy, I had never heard of the Good Samaritan Laws, and to be honest I think I would be shocked if I helped someone and then they sued me for breaking a rib or something while trying to help. That chinese women really didn't help did she? what was that all about? I always try to help someone if they look ill or hurt, in fact I have a couple of times, great hub tammy, voting up and sharing, nell


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks for reading Nell. Everyone in the U.S. is lawsuit happy. It is common to sue the person that saves your life. It is such a sad thing and I could never do that to someone who went out of their way to help me. I appreciate your visit!


ishwaryaa22 profile image

ishwaryaa22 3 years ago from Chennai, India

A truly thought-provoking hub! I agree with your views. My country is prone to the bystander effect which is really upsetting. Once again, a great food for thought! Way to go!

Thanks for SHARING. Useful, Awesome & Interesting. Voted up & shared both on HubPages & Facebook


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 3 years ago from United States

I am glad you wrote this hub. I had something like this in mind to write, but you did such an excellent job. The bystander effect is sad. I remember hearing a story that most have heard that happened in NYC in the 60s where a woman was raped and killed. No one even called the police until she was dead. It always bothered me that people could have heard her screams and yet not even call the police. This is an extreme example but still illustrates the point.

Voted up, awesome and shared!


vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 3 years ago from Peru, South America

I didn't realize the me-ism of today's world dates back to Ralph Waldo Emerson! Sadly, Good Samaritan laws are a necessary protection and I hope China puts it into effect soon. No man is an island, as the saying goes. We all need one another to live happy and productive lives.


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

Well done! Great info to bring to the forefront. I was amazed by the video. Did all those kids really just walk by? I don't get it. I would think someone would at least tell a teacher. Wow. Great hub. Many votes!


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

I've noticed a variation of the bystander effect in the case of group emails. I attend a church that is active in social movements for good causes. If I get a group email asking if any members would volunteer to sit at an information table or bring the picket signs or do some other task, I almost always ignore it, thinking someone else, someone in the in crowd, someone more experienced and less shy, will do it and better than I could. If I am directly and personally asked by email, phone, or face to face, then I almost always gladly volunteer and am pleased that someone has confidence in me. For me it's hard to be forward and jump ahead of other people to offer help on my own initiative, especially since I'm a follower and not a leader.

That "humans are the only beings capable of altruistic behavior" is not necessarily so. Google on: animals altruism OR altruistic


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks for reading and commenting Victoria Lynn. It is a sad state. People did just walk by the student. Hopefully awareness helps. :)


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

That is a great point B. Leekley. I think if anyone in an administrative position wants to get something done they should ask for help individualy and not in a group email. Perhaps members would be more willing to help. I will change that line to "capable of acting upon altruistic behavior." While some animals may be inclined to engage in it, they aren't likely to make an impact by feeling the behavior. That is a helpful point. Thanks so much for reading!


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

I hope it is ok to comment again. I just remembered a bit in a TV documentary on fires that I saw years ago. There was a small shop, and it was fairly busy. Somehow off to the side a small fire started. For quite some time people continued to shop and to bring purchases to the cashier. They scarcely glanced at the flames. Finally someone (a manager?) had the sense to order everyone out. People obeyed and went out quickly but not in a rush. Just after the last person left the store, the small fire flashed and the whole shop was engulfed in flames. That's the I'm not going to make a fool of myself by being the first to say this is not normal, this is worrisome, the emperor has no clothes, the room is on fire effect.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 3 years ago from Chicago

Thank you for publishing this outstanding article. You made a lot of great points and focused on very important moral truths. Well done! :)

James


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks so much for reading James!


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 3 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

This is a wonderful hub! It is a shame that we need something like the Good Samaritan Law! We should all be willing to help someone in need, however we can. Excellent work here! Up, awesome and pinning! :)


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks so much sgbrown!


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

Tammy

This is so right on. It is disheartening the way the bystander effect works. One of my greatest convictions is that one of the main reasons we are on the planet is to help each other. That often means taking ourselves out of our comfort zone and doing something we may not have planned.

This is very powerfully written.

Voted up++++

Angels are on the way. :) ps


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Hey Tammy! Wonderful hub. It does present a conundrum though - after working in a hospital for 10 years I can tell you I have heard many medical professions who say they fear helping in public sometimes because they can and DO get sued by the actual person they are tying to help! It's awful and like the Granny case - they fear losing their ability to make a living!

For a lay person - such as myself - I've been trained and certified in CPR and I feel I could help without fear of losing anything. I am not an R.N. nor M.D. and I no longer use my R.PSG.T so I got nothing to lose.


Dan Barfield profile image

Dan Barfield 3 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

Excellent points and well made, too. This is a great hub! Voted up and shared!:)


crazybeanrider profile image

crazybeanrider 2 years ago from Washington MI

A right on hub. I see this almost everyday. Even in small towns where you think you know everyone. But I don't get people just walking by someone laying on the ground. But that's society and I guess that is what we have grown into. I enjoyed reading this hub. Shared on twitter!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 2 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks so much crazybeanrider!


manatita44 profile image

manatita44 2 years ago from london

Interesting challenges and at times quite 'brutal' in it's own way. Answers are not always easy to find. One responds best to the need at every given moment and according to an awakened consciousness. Or do we? Quien sabes?

Dios the bendida y acompane.

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