“I learned to GIVE not because I have much but because I know exactly what it’s like to have NOTHING.” -Anonymous .
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A few months ago I was stopped at a busy 3 way stop, on a 6 lane road, in Boise. I noticed a heavy set, middle aged woman, in a mini van, looking to be having car problems. I could feel her desperation and watched with the dozens of other bored motorists as she got out of her vehicle and popped the hood. She was blocking the only turning lane that lay between the 4 lanes of traffic. I was as far away as you could be, going the opposite direction, but when the light turned green and still no one had stopped, I knew I had to turn around to see if I could help. It took me several minutes to maneuver my way back through traffic. I was certain that after waiting at two more lights, surely someone would have pushed her to the side of the road, lent her their cell phone, something! By the time I rolled up she had hopelessly returned to the driver seat with her emergency lights blinking, hood still up.
Now don’t be quick to sing my praises or to write off the people who didn’t stop, as complacent, self involved jerks.
You see, I knew that what I was experiencing was the “Bystander Effect”. Also known as the “Genovese Effect,” named after Kitty Genovese, who was raped and stabbed to death in her NY neighborhood street. This happened in the sixties, while 38 people watched from their apartment windows, yet no one stepped in to help her, or to even called the police for nearly 30 minutes. WTF how could this happen? Research shows that the more people present when someone is in need, the more likely you’ll assume someone else will help them, which is exactly what happens when we spot a stalled vehicle. We think, someone’s probably on their way, I’m sure they have a cell phone, I’m not a mechanic so I won’t be helpful, someone is bound to help yadda yadda yadda. The reverse is true as well, if the street was a little more desolate than the more likely you would be to stop.
Turns out, the lady was on her way to visit her elderly mother whom health had taken a turn for the worst. She was distraught as she had ran out of fuel. I just so happened to have a full gas can in my car that I was intending to use to mow the lawn with. She thanked me through her tears as I poured the gasoline into the tank annnd I was thankful that I knew about the bystander effect, and now so do you: )