The Bystander Effect

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The Bystander Effect

I just read a book that described the research behind the Bystander Effect. It is a disturbing phenomenon, indeed, and it has been empirically proven in many studies. The misconception most of us hold is that when someone has been hurt, witnesses will rush to their aid. The sad truth is the more people who witness a person in distress, the less likely it is that any one person within the group of witnesses will help.

The line of thinking in the Bystander Effect is that if one person , alone, sees someone in  trouble, he or she will feel compelled to help. If three or more people are witnessing someone in trouble, each supposes someone else in the group will help and so the individual abdicates his or her personal responsibility to step in. According to David McRaney, author of You are Not So Smart, the Bystander Effect has cost plenty of victims either their physical and/or emotional well-being. In many cases, by-standing has caused victims their lives, while others looked on.

I can personally relate to the Bystander Effect. When I was traveling in Florence, Italy, I was unaccustomed to the uneven cobblestone walkways. Upon exiting my hotel, I tripped just outside the entrance and went down sprawling onto the sidewalk. I hurt my knee and could not immediately get up. The number of pedestrians who literally climbed over me was astounding. Scores of them. Not one person offered help. I don’t remember what hurt worse: the injury to my knee or the shame of being ignored via apathy. I think the latter. Gosh. How do some people sleep at night?

I believe that the Bystander Effect needs to be considered as seriously as leaving the scene of an accident or leaving the scene of a crime. If it was our civic and legal responsibility to help someone in need, perhaps there would be less bullying, less domestic abuse, less hate crimes, less assaults, fewer injuries and fewer victims. Why do you think people abuse or bully other people? …because they can!

I have decided that by-standing someone in distress is officially not part of my behavioral repertoire. If I see someone being mistreated or in danger, I want to act in some way to be of aid to the victim. In my opinion, not only is it the moral choice; it is my honor to be of service to another who may be in distress. Give it some thought. What stand do you take?

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Mean Girls at the Health Club

It is hard to believe that mean girls are still around after high school. Don’t be too quick to breathe a sigh of relief that female middle-age brings with it an end to the days of dodging the mean girls. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the gym or the locker room, you are apt to encounter that iconic mean girl who will dare to go down into the abyss of old age, spitting the same old venom just to make sure she never loses that poisonous touch. She will grab the exercise equipment you just gathered for yourself. She will bark at you when a simple apology for her intrusiveness would have served just as well. She will name-call you. She will snub you and walk in the opposite direction when you enter the room. She will cover her  restylane-filled lips with her hand and whisper evil nothings about you. All this at a Health Club that, for an enormous monthly fee, touts a zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy.

As if that weren’t enough of a bitter pill to swallow, there are the “enablers of mean girl”; who surround, buffer and prohibit mean girl-enlightenment. Here is the drill: Mean girl attacks, enablers of mean girls surround her like a blanket and talk trash about their victim. Mean girl quickly becomes unreachable and therefore, never experiences the necessary conversation where she is expected to take accountability for her nasty, attacking behavior and all the damage it causes to others.

And how about those bystanders of mean girl? You know, the ones who say, “Just ignore it” or “You’re not letting yourself be bothered by her, are you?” or worse yet…they say nothing at all, which suggests acceptance. This phenomenon of bullying can take place at any time, any place, any age. It is an awful experience to be bullied…it is at best, emotionally violent; it is isolating; and, it is full of despair. It represents an apathetic and pathetic society that doesn’t even stand for the core value of human kindness.

Women bullying other women is one variation that I find to be especially tortuous. Don’t we, as a gender, have enough challenges in being treated respectfully? Isn’t it counter-intuitive to turn on our own Sisters? How are we ever going to embrace equality when we can’t trust each other? Maybe female bullies should be forced to wear the Scarlet B?

Pity we cannot treat the transgression of bullying like we treat a DUI. If only they could make you spit into a cup and test your saliva for “bully venom”. Then if you test positive, you would be ticketed for bullying, and you could be assured that you will spend at least a night in jail. If it is a second or third offense, expect the book to be thrown at you. If you are an accessory to bullying, you will also have to pay the price.

Surely, there has to be some way to more effectively criminalize this heinous behavior. Its continued stronghold threatens the very fabric of our society. If we can deal with a drunk, then we can certainly find some way to bust a bully…of any variety.

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Mother’s Day and Mythology

Mother’s Day is typically celebrated for loving mothers everywhere. The day is dedicated for remembering all the sacrifices and kindnesses mothers, old and young, have demonstrated to their offspring.

But for many children, Mother’s Day is a myth. It is a fantasy; an idea or illusion a child wistfully carries in their mind, but never truly experienced. The population of these children who are older, are the ones who linger by the Hallmark cards for long periods of time: reading and replacing; reading and replacing. They finally settle for some benign message that ultimately says “Have a Nice Day”, but nothing more. This blog is dedicated to all those children. There are plenty of them out there and, for them, Mother’s Day can trigger some powerfully painful emotions.

The children who contend with Mother’s Day Mythology are usually the children who have not received love via compassion from their moms. They may have been overtly or covertly abused. They may have been overtly or covertly neglected. They may have even received some virtuous traits from their mom’s role modeling, but they still suffer. Many are in therapy or many need to be. Sad children, young and old, affected by insensitive mothers and who may now struggle with attachment challenges, low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, …too many adverse effects to list here.

Here is what I want to say to children who have not yet risen above their maternal yearning:

  • You are a lovable and valuable human being.
  • You are whole and nothing is missing.
  • You have special gifts and talents that deserve to be encouraged.
  • You deserve unconditional love and regard.
  • You are not to blame because your Mom struggled in her parental role; she probably wasn’t mothered very well, herself.
  • You are not to blame that you may not have loving feelings for your Mother.
  • You can blame your Mother every which way from Mother’s Day and it won’t change a thing for you, unless you change.
  • You can grieve the loss of a loving mother, whether your Mom is alive or not.
  • You can still find a loving mother-symbol in other relationships.
  • You can still be a wonderful Mother, even if you didn’t have one.
  • You can forgive your Mother and release yourself from the myth.
  • You have strength, wisdom, determination and fortitude as a direct result of your painful mother-experience.
  • You have everything it takes to be your own loving mother.

I humbly and respectfully invite any child of this particular experience to add to this list. I am certain there are many more attributes to be shared. You deserve to be heard on Mother’s Day.

If you have or had the gift of a loving mother, please take a minute and send some loving thoughts to all the children who wish they did too.

Thank you for reading my blog and Happy Mother’s Day.