Bystander Effect – Being a Good Samaritan

My daily life is very unremarkable. My current job is  very dull, going to the gym is repetitive, and coming home does not hold much excitement either. So ,when something remarkable happens, then you have to decide whether you want to pass it by or jump in.

It so happened that on one of those unremarkable days I left the gym early because “I was not feeling the need to workout.” On my way home, I came to an accident that probably just happened a few minutes before I arrived. Cars were steaming and one was on fire (a small fire that was put out), car parts were strewn across the 4 lane road and a few people were on their cell phones while one or two ran over to the car that was in the middle of the road.

Like myself, many people pulled off to the side of the road and waited. I was not sure what I was waiting for… I decided after a few moments that I would just drive by because it seemed that a number of people “appeared” to be stopping to help. Just to interject a little social psychology, the thought that when multiple people witness an incident,  each person expects that the next individual would do something ie. call the cops, go to help etc is called the bystander effect. This phrase came from the Kitty Genovese murder that happened in the 60’s in which people heard her cries for help but no one called 911 because each person assumed his/her neighbour already called. Here I was looking at a recent accident and implementing the bystander effect – ‘surely someone else will stop to help these people so I don’t have to.’

Most of us know the parable of the good Samaritan. Most of us know that a few people stopped, gawked and walked by because they did not think it was their job to get involved. I understand quite well the feeling of not wanting to get involved – frankly it disrupts my day, it  can be very time-consuming, and then again you never know what you may get into.

That day, which was quickly turning into a dark evening as well as the fact that I was feeling tired and wanted to get home before it was dark (I hate driving at night), I decided that walking by was not the right thing to do. I decided to play the role of the good Samaritan along with a few other people. The decision became clear when at the moment I realized that most people actually stopped to gawk but never left their cars (bystander effect) and the other car involved in the accident had a person trapped inside. I just could not pass by; I needed to become involved.

Needless to say that once I got to the car with a 60 yr old woman with multicolored hair who was trapped and in pain, the issues of driving at night, feeling too tired or loss of personal time was not an issue. It was all about this woman who needed the help of strangers and few of us answered her call. It was quite moving to see the support that people can give to each other in times of crisis.

I really can’t say that I made a difference at the scene when I suggested that they use her blanket to cover her or when I decided to put her glasses back on her face because I thought she might need to see (I wear glasses so I understood the importance of seeing).  I acknowledge that my role was very insignificant; however, I would do it all over again because for that moment in time, someone else needed my support and full attention. It was not all about me and my needs.

I received no medals of commendations or pats on the back or anything such things (except for a few Facebook friends’ kind words); I slipped away from the scene when I was sure she was in good hands with the first responders. Choosing to become involved in someone else’s life is a risky venture. In this day and age, being a good Samaritan can get you killed and sometimes by the person you are trying to help. Thank God, that in this case, multicoloured-hair grandmother (who looked a lot  younger than her age of 60) did not appear to suffer any life threatening injuries and everyone who stopped to help did not meet with any harm. All in all, it was a good moment to choose to be a good Samaritan.