Story 1: Stepping in to help IS the new norm!
Dear Engaged Bystander: Every day, there are stories of engaged bystanders taking action. Just this week, I read a letter to the editor in my local paper about the assistant manager of our small Taco Bell/KFC restaurant who saw a car hit a young woman on a bicycle and rushed out of the building to help. The author said: "Thank God this woman [the general manager] was able to act in a quick manner. She not only called 911, but she held the victim's hand, instructing her not to move to prevent further injury, to take deep breaths, calm down, and that help was on the way."
In the last steps of Darley and Latane (1968) where the bystander needs to know WHAT to do and HOW to do it, the assistant manager definitely knew what to do and how to do it.
Five Steps Toward Taking Action (Darley and Latane, 1968)
1. Notice the event along a continuum of actions
2. Consider whether the situation demands your action
3. Decide if you have a responsibility to act
4. Choose what form of assistance to use
5. Understand how to implement the choice safely
The letter's author went onto to say that she recently moved from Boston "...and could not believe what I was seeing. In the City of Boston most people would have just walked on by, I'm sad to admit."
I do love that the writer wanted to let people know of this "heroic act". But I am saddened to read that the writer is so surprised by the assistant manager's actions. I want to see the day when our expectation is that people will help someone out, stop what they are doing to see if something is needed, and when appropriate call for help. This kind of engagement should be our cultural norm, our expectation should be that someone will be there to help, and the reality should be that we do not have to face a crisis alone.
I do live in a relatively small community and in small communities people are less likely to just walk by and do nothing. We usually know the person or know someone who knows them or any number of connections. I often take this small town attitude with me when I am traveling and stop to see if someone needs help getting their bag or finding their way to the bus. On my last trip, the man in front of me asked the flight attendant, "How are you doing?" She laughed and said that there was always one person who asked and she loved that. The woman in front of me heard the exchange and asked "How are you?" to the delight of the flight attendant. I repeated the question and heard the man behind me do it again and I heard the attendant's laughter as I entered the plane. This is such a small gesture, but it can shift someone into action.
Telling these stories and taking the time to engage is what we need to begin the belief that most people will stop to help. The third step "Decide if you have a responsibility to act" is key to turning this around. Be sure that you do find ways to stop and help and do that safely.