The Bystander Effect

  • 3

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?


  • 0

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.


  • 0

Conflict: In It for the Friction

Have you ever noticed that some people are in it strictly for the friction? It seems as if they thrive on arguing and they like to turn most interactions into some kind of heated debate. They like to fight so that they can see themselves as right and justified in their bad behavior. Coined as “High-Conflict” personalities, this part of the population covers a wide demographic and you will find these types everywhere you go. Quite often they are of high intelligence and you might very well notice that they hold powerful jobs. Their behavior can become the bane of your existence if they are your boss or your partner.

According to Bill Eddy, the guru of high-conflict,  the personality traits of people who are in it for the friction include:

  1. Rigid and uncompromising, repeating failed strategies
  2. Unable to accept or heal from a loss
  3. Negative emotions dominate their thinking
  4. Unable to reflect on their own behavior
  5. Difficulty empathizing with others
  6. Preoccupied with blaming others
  7. Avoid any responsibility for the problem or the solution

Does this sound like someone you know? One way to gauge if you are dealing with this type is to examine your own behavior. If you notice that you walk on eggshells around him or her, you could be with a High-Conflict personality and you must take care, because you could easily end up as their target of blame. Learning how to set a boundary with this type of person does not come easy because their trap is to lure you into the debate. Once, you are lured in, they “gotcha!” and now are justified in escalating the argument. Beware! Don’t ever argue with a High-Conflict personality.

Here are some tips for you:

  1. Learn to be okay if the High-Conflict person doesn’t like you. Being the good-guy with someone who is in it for the friction is seriously overrated. The High-Conflict personality translates “good guy” into “my next victim”.
  2. Learn not to take the High-Conflict person’s behavior personally. So what if their behavior has insulted you? Why need the approval of an unstable person? If it is a supervisor or boss, their critical nature will rarely cost you your job. Consider the source and remember that their need to be right comes from a deep inner insecurity.
  3. Trust your instincts. You will get a gut-kick very early with someone who is in it for the friction. Set your boundaries early and don’t let those boundaries be intruded upon.
  4. Don’t try to prove a point. They won’t accept it. Remember that they need for you to be “wrong”. State that you understand their point of view and you just happen to see it differently.
  5. Never, ever fall into the trap of trying to manage the wrath of someone who is in it for the friction. You will only be as good as your last performance and you will become emotionally exhausted.
  6. Be ready to walk away. Since High-Conflict people are usually terrified of abandonment, you will sense this early on and you might stay hooked up with them long after it is useful to do so. Sometimes you just have to walk away to preserve your own mental health.

Ultimately, someone who is in it for the friction needs to have a target. Recognize that early and refuse to play that role. See Bill Eddy’s work for everything you need to know.