Summary: We've just finished a series of blog posts on fear and how to overcome it. This week's news about the Bystander Effect has compelled me to ask you for your personal experiences with bravery ...
I was appalled to read the news headlines this week about the many cases of people in dire need of help who publicly went ignored, such as Kitty Genovese in 1964 and the most recent case of Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax.
In both of these cases, large numbers of people stood by as someone was assaulted and eventually murdered, watching various portions of the assault in plain view. Because of the publicity received in the 1964 case, this sadly common occurrence has come to be known as the Genovese Bystander Effect.
How does it work? Part of our brains' survivalist instinct knows that each of us is safer in a group. (If a Tyrannosaurus is busy gobbling up your friend, chances are greater that you can run to the safety of a cave in the meantime.) Growing up, I had a friend whose mother used to tell her to stick with the pack--and to turn tail and run to hide if someone shady approached, because of the "safety in numbers."
It's this safety-in-numbers mentality that often causes people in a group to not act when someone outside of the group needs help. People assume someone else is "doing something about it" (although just what is unclear). The converse is true for groups when just one person takes a step toward action. Acts of kindness--and bravery--spur on other such acts that become contagious to the group, studies show. Gail's story (shared on my Facebook fan page) shows this:
"A few years ago I decided to buy some makeup on my lunch hour. I was at the counter paying for my purchases, when from behind me I heard something like, 'This is a stick up. Put all your money in the bag.' When I turned around, a masked man was pointing a gun at me. He was actually talking to the cashier who was in front of me. After she took the money out of the cash register and put it in his brown paper bag, he directed everyone in the store (abut 15-20 customers) to go to the back room and get in a very, very small closet. He sent in a paper bag and told everyone to put all their cash in the bag and pass it back out to him, then 'shut the door and don't come out.' There was no light in the closet--pitch dark--and we were crammed in like sardines! He proceeded to steal items from the store and leave.
"We didn't know when it was safe to make a noise or come out. Finally, (someone) cracked the door and I hollered out, 'Hello. Are you there.' That was my little bit of bravery, wondering if he was going to come back and ask who said that! He was caught a couple of weeks later, robbing another business."
As a group, bravery became contagious at the end of the burglary. One person's cracking the door allowed Gail to contribute her voice to their attempted 'escape' from the closet. Can you imagine how much longer their terror could have lasted if no one had been willing to defy the thief's directive?
How have you bravely contributed (or stood by hoping another will put things right) to a situation that caused you fear? Share your stories--and I'll share mine later this week.
© KiKi Productions, Inc. 2010