Selflessness in the face of crisis

Keith Cousins

A foul, grotesque display of human behavior occurred Tuesday, October 27 in Richmond California.

While it has been all over every media outlet for the last week, I feel the details of the event bear repeating. According to police reports a 15 year-old female at Richmond High School was leaving her homecoming dance around 9:30 when she was invited by a classmate to join a group of people in a drinking session.

After apparently consuming a large amount of brandy in a short period of time she fell victim to rape. As many as seven people assaulted her while she lay on the bench. Others beat and robbed her. Still others laughed and took pictures with their cell phones.  

What is truly disturbing in this event was the fact that the scene was witnessed by many people yet was allowed to go on for two hours before any action was taken to call the police or intervene on the girls behalf. Police estimate as many as 20 people watched during the course of the attack.

An immediate and appropriate response to hearing of the inactivity of onlookers is, “why did no one call the police or try to help this poor girl?” In an interview with Contra Costa Times, Neil Smelser, a professor emeritus of sociology at UC Berkeley, talked about how crowds in such violent situations tend to respond.

“They may think, ‘Why do I need to get involved in this if it doesn’t involve me?’ Maybe they’re stunned, maybe it’s denial, or fear,” Smelser said. “You don’t necessarily want to blame these people in not getting involved and calling police. You often have to avoid simple judgments and look at all the circumstances. It’s the kind of scene that encourages a helpless feeling.”

Avoiding the “simple judgments” as Smelser puts it, we have to look deeply at this event and consider that this is an extreme example of the selfish, me first attitude that permeates our society.

“Someone else will call the police.”

“The police are probably already on the way.”

“What if I try to help and end up just like her?”

“It probably isn’t what it looks like.”

All of these thoughts could have been in the heads of the people who walked by the scene and did not respond. 
All of these thoughts are also extremely selfish ones, echoing the common attitude in our country today.

Maybe this situation is too extreme, maybe you feel as though there is no way you would not at least call the police if you witnessed something like this.

Think again.

How can we expect ourselves to act selflessly in the times of others crisis and peril when we act so selfishly in the little things?

How often do we not signal when we change lanes on the freeway? How many times have you sped up when that person in the next lane does signal to get over?

How many times do we drive by a homeless person on the side of the road with our $5 coffee’s and not even think about giving them a dime? How often do we quickly go through a door and not wait to hold that door open for the person only a few steps behind us?

Try to rationalize those, try to say that’s not me, I am not that selfish. We all are guilty of these small, daily acts of selfishness because let’s face it we live in a me-first society.
These small events aren’t horrendous, they don’t leave us gripped with fear and doubt on whether or not to act. We simply neglect to even consider being selfless in these small situations.  Without training ourselves to think of others it is all to easy to neglect and rationalize not helping others when they are in serious need.

So here is a challenge to readers; try thinking of others as you go about your daily life. Stop and hold open the door for the person behind you.

Let that panicked driver in the lane next to you get over when they put there blinker on. Maybe put your own signal on before you change over three lanes to get off the freeway leaving other drivers to frantically slam on their breaks. Give the homeless person the change you have laying in your car. Or better yet, if you have the time to take out of your busy day go somewhere and buy them a meal.

We can’t say what we would have done in the Richmond High School situation, maybe we would have helped and then again maybe we wouldn’t have. But if we use this tragedy as motivation to stop and look at our world differently, through more selfless eyes, then maybe situations like that will be stopped before they can even begin.

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