In life it can become all to easy to wait around and see if somebody else will fix a particular problem, to see if someone else will take the initiative to make the first bold move forward. It is one of the many things that can make it more difficult to take action. There are so many things that can make it harder to take action, but the impact of being in a crowd of people in terms of taking action is quite impressive.
So then, why is this such a temptation? Why is it often hard to take the initiative instead of sitting on your hands and waiting for somebody else? And furthermore, what can we do to address this natural tendency, how can we find the courage in ourselves to step up to the plate and be the first person to act?
The Bystander Effect
One of the main reasons that it becomes all too easy to stand around and do nothing in a crisis is due to the Bystander Effect. This generally occurs when the presence of others discourages an someone from acting in an emergency situation. This could be in terms of calling the police in response to a crime, helping someone up who has fallen over or perhaps aiding someone who seems to be having some form of medical emergency.
Interestingly, in these cases it appears that as the number of bystanders increase, the chances of anyone actually doing anything goes down. While when there are no witnesses present, people are more inclined to act. This is likely due to the thought that someone else in the group will take action, which is of course everyone else is usually also thinking, preventing them from taking action as well. Additionally, most events feel less impactful or threatening when you are part of a group, as after all there are other people to help out, the lack of this impact can make a crisis seem much less important.
Given that a crisis is both often chaotic and rare, what to do in a crisis is not always crystal clear. One of the reasons this contributes to the bystander effect is that bystanders may wonder what exactly is happening when a crisis emerges. In doing so, most people often look to others around them to figure out both what is going on and what to do. In these cases, if they see that no one else is reacting, it sends a signal to them that perhaps no urgent action is actually needed. Fooling them into thinking a crisis is something normal, and not something that demands some form of action.
Their are many real life examples of this effect, often leading to stories that are quite shocking, situations where it can be very hard to believe that no one took action. For example in 2010, Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax was stabbed to death in New York City after aiding a woman who was being attacked by a robber. After this Yax collapsed on the sidewalk for over an hour before firefighters eventually arrived. Apparently almost twenty-five people walked by without stopping to help. Some people even stared at Yax’s bleeding body as they went by, and apparently one bystander even callously took pictures of Yax before walking away from him.
So given the impact of the bystander effect, what can be done about it, what sort of mindset is required in order to override it and step up to the plate and act, when nobody else will?
“If not me, then who?”
One way that you can avoid being trapped by the bystander effect, and act in times of need is to adopt the mantra “If not me, then who?”. Doing so both drills it into your brain, it enforces the mindset that you are the person who will take action when something is wrong. It reinforces a choice that it is your responsibility to act, instead of waiting around for someone else to do so. Especially considering that after all, given the bystander effect that others likely wont act.
In making “If not me, then who?” a mantra in life, you will find you become more courageous as well. After all, it becomes easier to be the person to take action, when you realize others likely will not. It turns you into a more heroic figure, being the one to step forward while others retreat or freeze. And if you are ever in such a situation, once you get out of it and process what happened, you will hold yourself in much higher esteem as despite everything you where someone who at least tried to take action, to help and make a difference.