NYC Stabbing: Why do we no longer offer to help?

As many of you have probably heard, a man in NYC was recently stabbed and left for dead on the street. He was trying to help a woman being mugged and ended up unintentionally sacrificing his life for her. He probably would have survived the attack if it had not been for the indifference among so many Americans. In short, the man was bleeding on the sidewalk and numerous people walked right by, without so much as even offering help.

This entire episode was actually captured on a surveillance camera located right above the scene of crime. [CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY.]

So why didn’t anyone help? Well as the media reports, psychologists call it the “bystander” effect. This is basically means that people assume either someone is taking care of the situation or the next person coming will do so. A strange comparison, but we see this all time on reality shows, such as American Idol. Because this particular show is voter-based, many will rely on other’s to vote for the “favorite” and sometimes they end up getting the lowest number of votes. This is all because Americans believe someone else will pick up the slack. In fact, this is so common on voting shows that the host of Dancing With the Stars will actually make a disclaimer at the end, telling the audience not to assume anyone is safe.

The second belief that the media has been covering is that people imitate people. They see others standing in a line at the movies and automatically get in the line with them. They get on an elevator and everyone is facing the back, so they follow suit. This is a sort of social code of conduct we have created for ourselves and it just so happens to have apparently applied to this stabbing. Many saw people walking past the bleeding man and saw no one stop. Therefore the observers realized this must be the social protocol and too walked past. The startling fact is that although many walked past, some did stop, but not to help. One man stopped to snap a photo of the dying man on his camera phone. Another appeared to be attempting to examine the man by flipping him over, observing the wound, and simply walking away. We must certainly hope these particular behaviors aren’t becoming part of the our social code.

The “Ethics of Care” are founded on the basis of caring for others, media ethics professor Dr. Steve Urbanski teaches. He teaches us about people like Martin Buber who believed in kindness to others and taught his theory of I-Thou, which stresses the importance of the mutual, holistic existence of two beings. So why wasn’t there a mutual existence between the man dying on the street and the bystanders strolling by? Well, some are probably going to argue that because this man was homeless many didn’t realize he was injured. However, what about helping the needy? Is it anymore excusable to walk past a homeless man sleeping on the street and not at least try to help? Call me naive, but I really don’t think it would be any big deal to attempt to help someone who is lying on the dirty streets.

So here is how we are going to prevent something like this from happening again:

  1. Assume nobody is helping. Pick up your phone, dial 911 and at least report what you see.
  2. Use your own judgement about following the actions of others. If you see people stopping and snapping photos, do not imitate this behavior.
  3. Care about others. Nobody was ever judged for lending a helping hand. I have never once experienced someone saying, “Wow, she really offered to call the police? What a loser!” Simply inquiring about a situation could save a life.

I want everyone to please remember that even though we live in such a fast-paced world, taking one minute out of your day to make sure someone is safe can make all the difference. If someone would have simply asked if he was okay, perhaps he would have answered and told them the severity of his situation. Then maybe someone would have called the police or stayed with him until the ambulance came to help. Please try to be kind. Small acts can really help the world become a better place.