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Will You Practice What You Preach?

1890 words - 8 pages

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to

me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’”(qtd. in “The History

of Mister Rogers' Powerful Message”). Mr. Fred Rogers reflected on advice his mother had once

given him; however, this advice contains a few absolutes and may not ring true in today’s

society. A question is raised, scrutinizing the accountability of civilians and whether or not their

civic duty is to help. This is an ethical dilemma everyone could potentially face. When

witnessing a crime or act of bullying, just how responsible is a bystander to act? We don’t have

to put ourselves at danger necessarily, but calling the police or just saying, “Stop that!” could go

a long way.

The choice to act or not to act when crisis strikes lies within a person’s psyche. This

dilemma is a widely known trend called the bystander effect. As authors and psychological

researchers Jason Marsh and Dacher Keltner describe in their article “We Are All Bystanders,”

“When study participants thought there were other witnesses to the emergency, they felt less

personal responsibility to intervene.” The article featured in Changing Minds, an online center

focused on educating people on every side of controversial topics, called “The Bystander Effect”

describes the occurrence as, “[witnesses] assume nothing is wrong because nobody else looks

concerned.” Both of these definitions sound very similar to excuses as to why people don’t take

actions. Onlookers simply stand by when they receive social cues that the norm is to mind one’s

own business. The thought process seems to be, “If I can’t fight off a thief stealing a woman’s

purse, then I shouldn’t do anything,” However, that is simply not the case because, “indifference

is... as forcefully muscular--as any blow,” meaning turning the other cheek is negligent (“A

Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust”). Though the explanation behind the bystander effect is

simplistic, the resulting quandary is much more convoluted.

The bystander effect is one tale as old as time; however, after the grim fate of

Kitty Genovese, this subtle effect was forced into the limelight. Kitty Genovese was a twenty-
eight-year-old girl who resided in the Queens of New York City until one dreadful night in 1964

when Winston Moseley brutally stabbed Genovese to death over the course of thirty minutes.

Thirty-eight civilians witnessed the assail yet continued on with their nights ("Bystander Effect

and Diffusion of Responsibility"). The seemingly callous onlookers appalled the nation. Evan

Osnos, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, captured that same shock in an article he

wrote for The New Yorker where he logged "...the 1964 case of Kitty Genovese, whose murder

in a crowded stretch of Kew Gardens became known as a metaphor for moral decay, when

nobody stepped into help her." Whatever happened to love thy neighbor...

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