- Mental Health
Why Be a Helper Instead of a Bystander
Why People Don’t Always Help Others?
There is a concept in psychology called the bystander effect, which simply means that when others are around the chance of any one person lending a helping hand is reduced. One of the most horrific examples of this in real life is the case of Kitty Genovese who was viciously attacked in a prolonged incident in which the attacker would leave the scene only to return again to finish the job while several dozen bystanders witnessed her attack and her eventual murder without intervening and calling 911.
The bystander effect is an important concept to understand in your daily life. Have you ever seen something occur and figure "well someone else will take care of the problem"? Please know that chances are that no one will actually address the issue or problem because everyone is thinking that someone else will do what is needed. There are several examples of this effect that don’t have anything to do with crime: the old lady struggling with her broken down car on the side of the road, the branch that fell down in the middle of the road during the storm that no one bothered to clean it up, your neighbor struggling to unlock her door and countless other of small incidents that occur every day.
Bystander Effect is Everywhere
I work in a building with at least 20 other people. Someone spilled syrup on the stairs, so that everyone who came in tracked it through the hallway. Whoever spilled the syrup assumed someone else was going to clean it up. No one did.
This same building never has any toilet paper. Everyone assumes someone else will order it or buy it or stock it for the restrooms. No one does.
My apartment complex has over 100 residents. Several of the gates have stuck locks. It has rained very hard on a daily basis for weeks and the key will no longer turn. No one will fix the locks or leave the gate propped open so folks can get inside without a struggle. In fact, people actually close the gate immediately after I prop it open. Very unsafe to have to walk around the entire complex, late at night and in the rain to try different locks to see if the key will turn. No one cares.
This same apartment complex has someone leave a bag of Little Debbie Snack Cakes of different varieties in the parking lot to get all soggy and wet. No one put them in the dumpster.
Why you should help others and override the bystander effect?
Many people don’t want to get involved when they see violence occurring because they figure more drama will occur due to their intervention. You could get physically hurt if you intervene if you see someone beating his wife, abusing his kid or assaulting his dog. However, you can call the authorities and reach out to the abused person to create an environment where proper intervention is possible. Never assume someone else will take care of the problem.
In your daily life, you can operate with a sense of responsibility and communal love for your neighbors. Even though it may not be “your job” to take care of a particular issue, why not be a pioneer and train yourself out of the bystander effect so that when you are really needed you will be there to help.
Helping doesn’t have to be a selfless act. I cleaned the syrup off the steps because I don’t like sticky shoes. I buy toilet paper for the office because I like toilet paper. I bought granite lubricant and WD40 for the gates because I like for my key to work and don’t want to have someone jump me while I am struggling with my key. I know about the bystander effect and that if I scream during an attack there is a good chance no one will help me. I carry the stuff around with me so that I can get in and maybe it will help others until the maintenance man fixes the locks. I threw the Little Debbie Snacks into the dumpster because they were a soggy mess that looked quite unsightly. I like to not been grossed out when I walk to my car.
There are many residual benefits to helping others. Helping helps makes your life easier because you are a lot of times helping yourself. Others might learn from your example and start to do little things to improve their environment. You can learn how to do things for yourself. Training yourself out of the bystander effect is good for all.