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A Call to Be an Upstander

The New York Times reported that on Friday, March 13, 1964, there was a heinous murder in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, New York and, despite her cries, there was no one coming to help Catherine Genovese.  According to news reports at the time, she was attacked not once but three times over the course of a half-hour and there were apparently 38 witnesses who did not act on her behalf.  This story was later on contested by different writers but psychologists were prompted to study reasons people may not help.

In social psychology, there is a phenomenon called the ‘Bystander Effect.’ Essentially, individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present. In fact, the likelihood of someone taking action in a particular setting is inversely proportional to the number of people present. While the studies around the ‘Bystander Effect’ tend to be focused on unwillingness of people helping others in moments of crisis or emergency, my focus here is on the passive acceptance of evil by the majority.

Thinking about the recent occurrences of gang rape of Hanna and different reactions of people, health facilities, media and the justice system, I searched for quotes that would describe what is in my heart and would like to share those with you with my analysis.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

\”Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.\”

Haile Selassie

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

“As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence” Benjamin Franklin

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” Albert Einestein

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King Jr.

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Benjamin Franklin

“If you are neutral on situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Desmond Tutu

All these four phenomenal guys shout louder on why the bystanders’ effect is greater than the destroyers’ effect.  But why?

  1. Bystanders are in a better position to be rational and take objective action than those who are in the act of violation and the victims.  Having the right consciousness allow people to act right.
  2. When we are silent, it is considered acceptance and hence increasing the occurrences as well as spread of evil.  However, if we are up standers, we resist and hinder the easy flow of evil thereby hindering the mass effect.
  3. Passive acceptance is another way of supporting oppressors, perpetrators or those who violate others’ rights, which is exactly why the passive stance of the majority is more evil because the effect is multiplied with greater damage.
  4. When we think it is someone else’s responsibility, we fail to act on what we can do.  When many push taking action to others to act, it will be no one’s responsibility and hence evil finds a way to spread for nothing stops it.
  5. It is an uttermost callousness to act as “it does not concern me,” when you are human. Standing for the voiceless is sharing humanity. What goes around comes around.
  6. Evil needs fertile ground of passivity to spread.  If we desensitize ourselves as if nothing had happened, or give pretext to justify evil, we destroy caring generations and breed apathetic ones.

I have absolutely no good explanations why some people act in the most evil way but I encourage all to take proactive role to stand in the way of evil.  I read the 1964 murder case of Kitty Genovese and the bystander effect gave rise to creating a system of reporting violations and emergency help in the American history, the 911 telephone system.  As close as a fingertip, anyone can call the police anonymously and get the help they need.

In the press conference that was held on Nov 24, I heard that Dr. Mihret Debebe asked one very good question that stimulated our thinking.  “Who killed Hanna?”  He further explained that when the police did not actively collaborate with the crime investigation and take immediate action to facilitate justice to take its upper hand, when the health facilities refused to accept emergency cases and not focus on saving human lives, when the community did not report violations and protect the innocent; and when the actual perpetrators did not feel human to stop their violations, then we all are involved in killing Hanna.

Hence, I see multi-faceted actions that need to be taken by all parties so that no act of evil is tolerated by institutions such as the health as well as justice system, the community and individuals as well as the media. The 911 telephone system changed history.  Shouldn’t we develop similar system? All of us who keep silent after knowing the act of evil should no longer stand by the side of gang rapist and bystanders by being passive and hence promote evil acts.  At times, fighting evil can be prevented by taking proactive role of involving in development.  No room for evil if we all are pre-occupied with growth and exerting our energy to develop.

In the month of December, I am completing my one year term of service as the President of AWiB.  Hence, I would like to take this opportunity to transmit my last message.  Let us be proactive in self and professional development, network to develop our nation and be upstanders to stop evil.

No room for ‘I did not see’, ‘I did not hear’ or ‘I would not talk against violations’. Would you be an upstander?