Friday, November 20, 2009

What Would You Do?

What would you do if you observed a crowd of people in which several people were fighting?

Those fighting are all high school-aged boys. While you cannot tell exactly who is fighting who, there does not appear to be one boy who is being singled out for attack.

I'll let you think for a minute.......

To me, it seems like there are three options: stop the fight yourself, call the cops, or do nothing.

Ever since I was in this situation, I have been wondering how the people that I know (think they) would react in this situation and why. Especailly why if you pick the third option.

The third option is what I chose.

So here is what happened: For those of you who don't know, I live just down the street from a high school. Many of the students walk right by my house on their way to and from school, which offers me no shortage of laughs when they wander into my yard and promptly step in my dogs' crap. (hehehehe) And aside from a little bit of traffic conjestion and teenagers' smoking on the corner, we've never had any problems. Last week, just as school was letting out, I heard a commotion outside, which, as I was standing near the basement windows, I was just at the right level to see. Outside, there was a decent-sized crowd, mostly boys, but a few girls. The noise of the crowd was unmistakenly that of a fight. I didn't really see any contact being made in the fight, mostly just swinging fists. The fight, followed by the crowd, moved into the street and then across the street as well, backing up cars full of teenagers and parents.

I thought about it, and I ended up doing nothing. Not that there was a great deal of time to do anything anyway, as high school fights are usually over before they start. Now, I thought about calling the cops. Hell, there is a station down the street, directly across the street from the school. But I kinda felt like "boys will be boys." A certain amount of fighting is to be expected, right? I'm not saying that I think a boy has to fight or that a girl can't/shouldn't. But I just don't think it's that big of a deal.

Now a normal person would probably have stopped thinking about it after that. Or after they knew that no one was hurt. But I'm not a normal person. The first thing I thought about was the recent death of a high school boy in Chicago, which a bystander could record on his/her cell phone but didn't do anything to help. At the time, in the national news at least, there was a great deal of talk about bystanders not helping or intervening, as well as speculation that the cops wouldn't get anywhere because of a culture of "stop snitching." Of course, just a cursory look at a few more recent articles shows show that the boy appears to be an innocent bystander who walked into a fight between rival neighborhood gangs, then becoming the target of one group's rage. Many bystanders and people at the nearby community center came to help the boy once the others stopped, but, honestly, seeing the video and reading that they were swinging railway ties... well, I don't think I'd be jumping in that fight either. Hell, there was no way I was jumping in the rather minor skirmish outside my own house. But still, shortly after the fight, I was wondering, "What if one of those kids had died and I did nothing to stop it?"

About a decade ago, as a scared and depressed recent college dropout, I went to a lookout area in my boyfriend's hometown, to think and kill some time while waiting for him to come back to his folks house. My reverie was interupted by a girl's screams and a boy's yelling. A young man was dragging a young woman down the path, telling her that she was never going to get away from him, that he was going to kill himself and take her with him, etc. I knew there was no way I could really do anything directly against him. So I did the next best thing. I called the cops. These were the days before everyone had a cell phone, so I ran to the nearest house, got no answer, ran to the next, got no answer, then finally found someone home in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. I saw the cops when I went back to get my car. She didn't look physically hurt. I felt satisfied that I'd done the right thing.

Another thing I've thought of quite a bit since witnessing the fight is what psychology calls "the bystander effect." Basically, the more people there are, the less likely an individual is to help, intervene, or call for help. In part, this is because people think that someone else will call for help. Also, people take their cues on how to react from those around them, so if everyone around them seems calm and isn't acting, they also stay calm and don't act. Maybe this is why I reacted when I was the only one around but did not act when I knew there were a dozen plus other witnesses. At the time, I could have very well dismissed this as just an overly-emotional teenage lover's spat. We all like to think that we are good people who would "do the right thing" in any given situation. But would we really? And how do we know what the right thing is?

So..... please tell me..... what would you do?