The bystander effect is a social phenomena in which an individual is less likely to help a person in need when others are around. The bystander effect is believed to be driven by the thought that somebody else will handle the situation, a thought process that has lead to some deadly results in the past. No matter how potentially threatening a situation, and no matter how heroic an individual is, there will be a time when everybody succumbs to this behavior. I don’t think a person can be labeled as a bad person by not acting on a situation, or by not calling for help, but I believe the main reason the bystander effect happens is because of the possibility that a potential hero could be wrong. I have personally witnessed some situations that seemed more serious than they actually were, such as play fighting, and for the most part my first action is to observe the event rather than to intervene, or call for help. The bystander effect is basically 10 people taking the same stance on a situation and expecting another to call rather than to be labeled as a boy crying wolf. Public agencies have been running ad campaigns in an effort to quell the fire that is the bystander effect, but I think they need to first address the fact that there is no penalty for “overreacting,” so people should not fear any consequences. Nobody wants to call the authorities just to be told they are wrong about a situation, but if they can comprehend that they don’t need to fully understand a situation before calling for help, then many of the tragedies tied to the bystander effect will easily be averted.
The term hero is grossly overused these days. The definition of hero has been updated to include those who are “admired or idealized for courage” but that is exactly the problem. Courage is relative, so if that definition stands, every human being can be called a “hero” at some point to someone. I like to see a hero as one who is willing to put their own safety or life aside for the greater good of another, no matter the circumstances. I was listening to the radio the other day and they spoke of a young boy who was inside a stolen car, unknown to the thief. The child picked up his mother’s phone after the policed called, and was able to lead the police to his location by honking the horn of the now abandoned car. The radio broadcasters lauded this young man as a hero, but I fail to see the heroic nature of his action. I don’t mean to be harsh the actions of this child were remarkable, and given his age of only three years old quite admirable, but not heroic. A hero goes through lengths to save others. This child, while astonishingly courageous, was not a hero. I would like to petition all of mankind, and specifically the media, to stop overusing this term. Please save the word hero for the real heroes, the men and woman who fight for others, and those who run into flaming buildings. If humanity continues to cheapen the meaning of this word, it will eventually be met with only cynicism and contempt.