Saturday, March 3, 2012

Taking a Stand Against the Bystander Mentality

We're all too familiar with those terrible cases of people turning a blind eye to desperate emergencies, not wanting to "get involved."  One particularly infamous example of this involved the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York on March 13, 1964.  Supposedly, as many as 38 people watched from their windows at this woman was raped and murdered.  (The murderer actually left and returned later to finish her off where she was lying by a locked door.)  Tragically, there are many other examples of this same sort of apathy to evil and pain.

Things only seem to be getting worse.  There's a tendency these days to live in isolation from others.  Like I pointed out in The Connection Illusion, electronic communication may indeed bring us closer to those who are physically removed from us, but it also moves us further away from those in our daily circle--family, friends, and co-workers.  It helps to create a bubble around us, separating us from those beside us on the journey, distracting us from those we love.

Don't let this false sense of separation move you to become a bystander when you're called upon to help.  While I don't always succeed at this, if someone needs my assistance, I try to do what's necessary.  If I witness something wrong, I am going to get involved.  If this places friendships or livelihood in jeopardy, so be it.

Recently, something particularly tragic happened to a relative which really brought this issue to my heart.  If you encounter someone in a seriously bad place, take a moment to get involved and put yourself out there to help the person.  If you fail to act, you may live to deeply regret your unwillingness to get involved.  I urge you not to care about what people may say or think.  Instead, do what's right.  

After all, you should do unto others as you would have them do to you.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is a strong reminder of what is expected of us as followers of Christ.  Are we doing all we can for those suffering around us, or are we living within that bubble of isolation?  Of course there are many ways to get more involved.  

Updated May 2017: A recent piece on church safety also touches upon the issue of fighting the bystander mentality and getting involved.  I invite you to read "Keeping Our Parishes Safe."  

Note that the section of this article that discussed Sean Astin's #Run3rd has been deleted; it's no longer relevant.

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