Twitter Shaming, Trump, Kim Jong-un, Rotherham - and why we look away
In 1964 a 28 year old woman was stabbed, sexually assaulted and then murdered in Queens, New York. But what really alarmed the community and the authorities was that many people had either witnessed or heard the attack and did nothing. There ensued a stream of laboratory social research and out of that emerged the theory of Bystander Syndrome – the phenomenon that human beings are less likely to come to the assistance of another person if there are other people in the proximity.
In short, we turn away thinking someone else will deal with it. The wrong becomes someone else’s problem and responsibility. It is often referred to as ‘diffusion of responsibility.’
As a psychologist it worries me that lab experiments are used to explain away the unacceptable. For then it becomes a smokescreen for much more worrying human tendencies – cruelty and irresponsibility.
In May, the London Metro published an article reporting on a young man called James who, seeing a woman slumped on the tube, her food falling to the floor, saw fit to take a photo to fuel his twitter account rather than help her. Oh, young James was full of excuses – he was off the tube before he took the picture (meaning he was on the tube and just watched her); anyone would do it (no, James, most of us think you are an immoral little oik) and the pizza was on the floor anyway (because you turned to your camera and not another human being, James). The reality is that James chose to be cruel and use that woman’s plight for his own twitter profile. Those who tweeted nasty comments about her joined him under the stone.
In our leadership, we see a similar lack of responsibility, but it comes out as a refusal to name evil. This week it has taken Donald Trump two days after Charlottesville to eventually come to a lectern, grip it with the white knuckles of a man being hung by his own petard and name racism as evil, and the beliefs of the KKK and other extremists as anti-American and wrong. Watch news video on YouTube
Likewise, the world turns away as Kim Jong-un taunts us with a nuclear threat which makes the Cuban Missile Crisis look like a political blip. Read article in The Daily Telegraph. We all sit there, a little concerned and think that it will go away; that this unstable young man, surrounded by men either too mad, bad or frightened to stand up to him will be tamed just as Kennedy faced down Khrushchev. But there was a big difference in 1962 – Khrushchev was stable and sane. And so, the bystanders of China, Japan and Russia pace around the edges while Trump throws back threats. We hope that sanctions will stop a man who is already starving his people to fund his madness. And if Guam is hit? We will all complain that nobody did anything – that no single country pointed the finger at the threat.
My last example is Rotherham, where many young girls – children – were abused, terrorized and their lives ripped apart for the evil desires of a group of Pakistani men. The people who could have saved these girls looked away and even blamed them because naming the evil flew in the face of political correctness and ‘community relations.’ The reality is that the colour of your skin does not make you evil, but a culture of justifying abuse and subjugation does. Those men and anybody who knew and turned away are evil and still we will not say its name.
In conclusion, when we turn away from our human responsibility we reduce our humanity...and the consequences are frightening.
Until next time.....Stay Sassy