The plight of the bystander

Atop the chalkboards in every classroom rests a plastic marker that reads, “Lasallian Achievers for God and Country.” For decades, this vision has been a constant reminder for Lasallians who will lead our country into a brighter tomorrow. Whether through chosen careers in the future or through random acts of kindness, there are many ways to become a Lasallian achiever.

Nevertheless, there are still times that even the best of us have failed to put these words into practice. It is not so easy after all, especially when being indifferent to the call for change may pose more of a sociological phenomenon than it is a matter of principle.

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The bystander effect

According to Dr. Melvin Jabar of the Behavioral Sciences Department, the bystander effect is a phenomenon in which an individual may not likely extend help or assistance to others, especially in emergency situations, owing to the presence of others. He also mentions that there are various reasons for such a response.

“First, other people may think that the victim or the person needing help will be able to respond to the situation on his or her own. It is also possible that because there are many people around, someone will eventually help. We have this frame of mind that with the presence of other people, there is a high probability that one will emerge altruistic. Individuals may also be afraid to help others because they may be accused as the perpetrators of the problem,” shares Jabar.



If you heard someone shouting for help, would you stop and help them?

The question seems ridiculous, but on March 14, 1964, Kitty Genovese was murdered outside her home in New York City while thirty-eight of her neighbors deemed as witnesses watched without helping, her cries for help ignored.

Not one person phoned the police during the time of the assault and only one called after Kitty was dead. It was only until the ambulance with Kitty’s body drove off that the people started coming out of their houses.

Meanwhile, October 13, 2011 marked the plight of toddler Yueyue from Foshan in Guangdong, China. A grisly closed-circuit camera video showed young Yueyue walking the market street of Foshan when she was run over by a white van. The driver stopped the van then pulled away, crushing Yueyue for a second time under the rear wheels. A few minutes later, an even larger vehicle trundled down the lane, running Yueyue over for the third time.

In the video, eighteen people are seen to have walked and cycled past Yueyue as she lies visibly on the road, bleeding profusely. Not a single person stopped to help. It was only the nineteenth passerby, street cleaner Chen Xianmei, who bothered to call Yueyue’s mother upon seeing her lying on the road.

Upon reading these stories, most people would probably say it’s apathy. Others might utter, “indifference,” or “ignorance.” As for Jabar, he believes that the bystander effect’s interrelatedness to apathy is contextual.

“We have to be aware that our actions are influenced by other people. Thus, the responses of other people somehow restrict us or otherwise. We also have to understand the situation since there are instances in which we could not respond simply because we know our limitation,” states Jabar.

Quoting famous sociologist Emile Durkheim on altruism, Jabar believes that human beings are naturally helpful. “We do things to show our concern to others, but there are situations, again, that limit us from doing so.”


The last man standing

Despite numerous accounts of the bystander effect happening in society, it may not suffice to generalize its applicability in the Philippine setting. Adding Jabar’s strong sentiments about the Filipino people being less likely to allow the phenomenon to happen, we decide to put the theory to the test.

A simple social experiment was conducted to see whether or not the bystander effect holds true for Lasallians. With the premise of the bystander effect being that the more people there are in a surrounding area, the less likely it is that help will be offered, which is why it was pivotal to execute the experiment at the right place and the right time. Taking this factor into consideration, we use the setting of the Henry Sy Sr. Hall (HSSH) grounds at the peak time of 12:40 PM. We also decide to cross reference how gender comes into the picture by having both a male and female representative to see if there was any difference in the reaction of the crowd.

The script was simple: on two separate occasions, the actors would make their way towards the crowd, pretending to be in a rush, and “accidentally” dropping piles of documents, pens, and other paraphernalia against the otherwise windy area of HSSH grounds, and then we’d observe whether or not people would actually help.


Mixed results

After several attempts, the results proved inconsistent. Out of the six times that the experiment was conducted, the bystander effect was only observed once with a male actor. It seems as though the bystander effect may apply to the Lasallian community, though one experiment is definitely not enough to make any scientific claims or generalizations.

The essence of being a Lasallian achiever lies not in one’s capability to excel in the classroom, but rather by one’s ability to be socially responsible citizens regardless of the circumstances. As a deceptively simple task, being socially aware of our surroundings may prove to be a challenge; especially when it means letting go of some qualms in the process. While the experiment is generally consistent with Jabar’s sentiments, we can never be too lax and think that there will always be someone to take the responsibility.


Jeanne Marie Cornista

By Jeanne Marie Cornista

Cody Cepeda

By Cody Cepeda

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