A lady or a guy is laying down against a wall on the street. Would you stop to help? Curiously, studies show that, in general, the more people present, the less likely it is for that person to receive help. Yes, we didn’t believe it either. Until we saw this experiment: People passing by will look to each other to see if anyone acts. Until someone does act, they’ll probably walk on by.
There are endless studies, but one famous case made the news heralds in 1964: the murder of Kitty Genovese. Living in Queens, in a dense, residential New York neighbourhood, Kitty was attacked by a house burglar that stabbed her not once, but on two occasions and even had time to rape her. The full episode is estimated to have lasted 30 min. Her cries for help echoed clearly across the night streets. By the time the Police were called and an ambulance arrived, it was way too late.
Social psychology study this case as part of what they call Bystander behaviour. It’s at the core of understanding how individuals act differently when they’re in a group from when they are alone.
In the case at the beginning of our post, try to guess how long it takes before anyone reaches out to help? How many people pass by and do nothing? The time and number of people seem to be amplified when someone is at the scene and does nothing.
A couple of weeks ago, I was leaving my building with my child. They had chosen their Sky Patroller hero look to go to the park. As we walked out the hallway, they said “Look daddy, a lady on the floor!” and started to pull on my hand. There she was, a 78yo lady on the floor, thankfully with 3 people around her. My child nevertheless was pulling to go over.
“Are you ok?” they asked the lady, blood stains on her face – she had fallen on her chin and cheekbone – and on the floor. The lady looked at my child and softly nodded yes. “You have blood on your face” they said, unimpressed with the sight of it, worried that the lady’s face wasn’t clean. “You need a band-aid. Daddy, we need a doctor.” An ambulance had been called and was on their way.
My child showed me I need to pay more attention to my surroundings. They did and on top of that, they acted like a Hero, intervening when the moment required.
We’ve been working with Heroic Imagination Project to adapt their “How ordinary people can be Heroes” workshops and teachings to young children. That will form the basis of WEEROES Academy, a set of workshops and events adapted for children to help them learn how to become heroes.
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