From the very first psychology class that I have ever taken, I remembered, very acutely and distinctly, studying a case that served as a frightening example of a social and/or psychological tendency of humankind. The infamous murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964, who was stabbed outside of her apartment while people observing did not assist, intervene, or attempt to call the police, is the fundamental example of the tragic yet legitimate social psychological phenomenon known as the Bystander Effect. This phenomenon, the tendency of people to not offer any assistance or intervention when other individuals are present, has always felt like a rather horrifying, unbelievable and inexplicable truth of human behavior.
I have consistently used the very term “bystander” in a negative light, viewing it as a harmful, neglectful form of passivity in all contexts. Learning about cases in which the victimization and explicit harm of people was witnessed and ignored by bystanders has only worked to amplify the horror associated with the situation overall. “Bystanderism,” on both an extreme scale, such as in serious crimes, or in more casual settings, is generally viewed as a lack of action that should be avoided.
As I reflect upon my experiences and encounters with bystanderism in both hypothetical and practical situations, I have found that many people would arguably state that in situations of dire need and desperation, a majority claims to be active and would not hesitate to step in and assist individuals that needed urgent attention. But the truth of the matter is, as much as we love to believe that in the case of danger, crime, and injustice, humanitarianism would thrive – this is far from reality.
As someone who is intensely driven and inspired, both negatively and positively, by the overall societal status of the world, I am well aware that not everyone is involved nor concerned with the issues floating about. I see in my very own personal life, individuals who seem almost unmoved and ignorant to the overwhelming number of social injustices, inequalities, and wrong doings that occur in our universal society. After witnessing the lack of sympathy, empathy, and humanitarianism in my own life, I have come to see that this passivity towards the problems occurring both nationally and worldwide, has a strong, yet tragic correlation to bystanderism but unfortunately stretches beyond it.
I am a firm believer that every single individual in this world should have a social issue or worldly concern that resonates with them. Everyone must have some aspect of this imperfect universal society that stirs up a feeling within that calls for activism and a need from within to make a change or a difference. Yet, the more I come into contact with individuals and insert myself into various communities, I see an overwhelming number of people who seem indifferent and almost apathetic when it comes to worldly concerns.
This, to me, is the equivalent of bystanderism because there is no doubt that in our current day society there is a large amount of discrimination, violence, injustice, inequality, and basic wrongfulness that is neglected and avoided by many individuals.
Activism, is often construed to seem as though it is synonymous to extremism and radical revolution. People hold themselves back from taking a part in organized activities or even simply speaking out about issues because they do not want to be mistaken for an activist. But this entire ideology falls under the category of bystanderism because it shifts responsibility as a member of society and mankind to others rather than tackling worldly issues on one’s own.
…Every single individual in this world should have a social issue or worldly concern that resonates with them.
In my own personal life, I have reached a point at which I am finding myself utterly and blatantly repelled by individuals who are passive and fail to take any steps at all to stand up for an issue or concern that they have a stance on or believe in. I have found myself growing impatient and simply despising the fact that people are unchanged and unwavering by aspects of life that do not directly affect their own lives. It is not news that majority of people are concerned primarily about themselves, as that is expected and definitely healthy, but this growing belief that the world has advanced and somehow “gotten rid of” the pressing issues on every level including gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, class, identity, etc, is not only ignorant and incorrect, but verges barbarous.
Although I have begun filtering out individuals in my life that simply lack a passion that extends to a social and worldly context, I know that it does not change the lack of activism and the subtle bystanderism that exists in the world. I believe it is essential for people that can resonate with social issues and universal concerns to take steps to voice their views and indulge in legitimate action because bystanderism goes beyond the realms of witnessing wrongs firsthand; it is relevant to our current day progress of social issues that feel difficult to fathom, cyclic, and ultimately perpetual.