You are walking down the street, minding your own business. There are tons of other people walking past you on their daily commute across the city. Suddenly, without any kind of warning whatsoever, a man a few steps in front of you collapses. Then he begins gasping for breath, his body convulsing. Now the entire street is packed with people who surround him, watching his face begin to contort and redden, and his back beginning to arch. There are at least twenty people here. There is also a member of the neighborhood watch. Yet, only about five people dial 911, and no one, absolutely no one, is stepping forward to help him. You included. Then, thank goodness, a police officer steps forward, asking everyone to move a step back.

As it slowly becomes clear that this man is receiving the medical attention he requires, you begin to question yourself. Why didn’t I help him? You knew that he was having an epileptic seizure, and you knew the safety measures that were needed to keep him from harm’s way. He could have died, had he not been tended to. Why was I just standing there? And more importantly, why did it take a cop for the people around him to even move?

This hypothetical situation describes the effects of the extremely common Bystander Effect. The effect describes a social psychological phenomenon where individuals do not offer help of any kind to a victim, when other individuals are present. In simple terms the Bystander Effect is when you think someone else will save the day. The number of people at the scene may create the illusion of a dilution of responsibility, making you, or any one person in the crowd, less likely to help. This effect increases with the number of bystanders present. It affects almost all of us, which is why no matter how brave or heroic you think you are, you will most certainly be rooted to your spot when a situation arises.  There are a few people, however, who defy the effect, immediately moving to help anyone in danger. They don’t give a thought about mundane things like embarrassment, fear or shock. These people are called heroes.

The need for heroes might not be apparent in today’s world, but believe me, we need them. Situations like the example stated above might not have required the presence of a hero, but there are times when we as bystanders go too far in the field of standing by. For example, in 1964, a woman called Catherine Genovese, or more popularly, Kitty Genovese, was murdered outside her apartment. She was repeatedly stabbed by her attacker; attacked for approximately half an hour. Many neighbors were reportedly aware of the attacks taking place, but were afraid to react. One of them shouted at the attacker, during his initial attack, saying ‘leave that girl alone!’. But besides that, and a few calls to the police, no action was taken against the murderer through the duration of the attack. Police reports reveal there were around a dozen persons in the vicinity, who had either seen or heard parts of the attack. Many of them had no idea there was a homicide taking place; but is that really an excuse for not taking action?

The truth is, we usually feel that we are not responsible for what is going on, and that it is none of our business. People also give the excuse of not being able to perform the kind of assistance required. Many just inform the authorities, making it ‘someone else’s job’. Children are also prone to the Bystander Effect. How many times have you walked past a classmate being bullied, thinking, ‘This has nothing to do with me.’

In actuality, it has EVERYTHING to do with you. Whoever is present at such an incident, but does nothing, should not expect help when he or she is in a similar situation. Humans deserve assistance, with respect to the fact that they are living, sentient beings.

In many countries, helping someone in a time of need is given extreme importance, and in some cases, it is a legal obligation. The USA’s Good Samaritan Laws benefit bystanders who act in the righteous way, and many organizations give training to individuals, so that they can assist people in need. In Quebec, Germany and Brazil, it is a crime not to help someone in dire need of aid, unless your own life would have been put in danger for you to do so. So bystanders are more likely to provide assistance. This may be a bit extreme, but if the job gets done, it may actually help people realize their potential; their potential to save lives.

We are all capable of being heroes, should the time come. Make it a point to step forward, when there is need of assistance that you can provide. That is what makes all the difference.

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