Sunday, February 13, 2005

Don't Wanna Get Involved?
Don't Get Me Started

Last night I took my son to the mall to burn off some energy. It had been been pouring rain around here and between that and my having a cold we'd been housebound for about two days. We ducked into McDonald's for a bite and as I was setting our food on a table, a woman at an adjacent table stood up and said, "Would somebody please help me? Please help me? I'm fainting..." so I grabbed her as she passed out.

She was a little heavier than I could handle and I couldn't get her back in her chair or safely onto the floor, so there I was, just hanging onto her, trying to keep her from falling. I kept looking around the packed restaurant and everyone was watching, and I was asking for help (and trying to keep an eye on my son, who was patiently waiting for me—go figure)...and no one lifted a damn finger.

After the requisite slowing down of my thought process and silly consideration of my normally ladylike (well, mostly) demeanor, I got mad and literally screamed at the top of my lungs, "Somebody help me fer God's sake!!" and got two or three people to help me get the woman lying down and call the paramedics. I mean, what does it freakin' take to get people to MOVE?

The paramedics came and took over. It turned out the woman had just donated blood and her blood pressure was pretty low. The paramedics had her lying on the floor with her feet up for quite a while, and when they tried to put her in a wheelchair, she started to pass out again. When I finally left they were going to send her to the hospital, but she seemed like she was going to be okay eventually.

I'm still sorta angry about what happened, though. I can still see people's blank eyes as they just watched what was going on. I know it's possible that some people didn't know what was going on, but the people right near me could hear me and made eye contact with me...and still didn't get their asses up. One guy even made direct eye contact with me, smirked slightly and looked away. I couldn't believe it.

I mentioned the incident to my sister-the-shrink, and she brought up the much-studied Kitty Genovese murder and the theory of "diffusion of responsibility"—the idea that the more people there are as witnesses, the longer it will take for someone to react, because everyone thinks someone else will do everyone does nothing.

From one article:

"One dynamic brought forth was the Bystander Effect. This theory
speculates that as the 'number of bystanders increases, the
likelihood of any one bystander helping another decreases.' As a
result, additional time will pass before anyone seeks outside help
for a person in distress. Another hypothesis is something called the
Diffusion of Responsibility. This is simply a decrease in the
feeling of personal responsibility one feels when in the presence of
many other people. The greater the number of bystanders, the less
responsibility the individual feels. In cases where there are many
people present during an emergency, it becomes much more likely that
any one individual will simply do nothing.

"In essence, the 38 witnesses felt no responsibility to act because
there were so many witnesses. Each one felt that the other witness
would do something. Social psychology research supports the notion
that Catherine Genovese had a better chance of survival if she had
been attacked in the presence of just one witness."

Other information online mentions, in conjunction with the Bystander Effect, the difficulty some people have in determining whether or not something is actually an emergency. That is, if a lot of people witness an incident and no one is doing anything, people will take their cues from their peers and do nothing, believing it must not be an emergency if no one is doing anything, and that their peers would be reacting if it were an emergency.

Sheep. The whole thing—including my discomfort with the idea of yelling at a restaurant full of people—makes me sick.