No one helped – two sides to every story

Via Greg Ellifritz, I read an article about 7 self-defense cases and their implications.

In discussing one of the cases:

Finally, you need to be able to handle it yourself: John told us that of some 30 people who witnessed this struggle in a public place, not a single one came forward to help him.

Now, this statement can be taken for what it is: you’re in a struggle, lots of people around you, no one steps in to help, which means yes you are on your own so you ought to be prepared to handle things yourself.

What stood out to me is depending which side of the story you’re in, the fact that “no one helped” gets either condemned or praised. And it’s as if we want it both ways.

On the one hand, people want other people to help. They are of the mind that if I saw something bad happening, I would step in. Certainly this is a good thing, to help someone in need. And if you are the one in need, you’d likely welcome all the help you can get. As well, people often view the fact that “no one helps” as a sad commentary on society today, and thus state that as demonstration that they are not part of that particular societal problem.

On the other hand, often people of this same group discuss the realities of getting involved in someone else’s problem. You could wind up hurt or dead. You may not understand the complete context of the event and could wind up helping the wrong person, or making a bad situation worse. You could cause problems for yourself, and there may be nothing done in return by those involved to contend with your problems brought on by helping them with their problems (e.g. medical bills, loss of job, loss of life, etc.). So it is often suggested that it could be a very bad thing to get involved.

This is something I personally struggle with, because it’s in my nature to want to help people, yet I know if I help it may not have the desired effect and things could wind up worse for those involved and myself. My personal safety and well-being does matter more to me (if I’m hurt, can’t work, die, get sued, etc.; who is going to take care of my wife and children?), but yet I have a hard time standing by and watching others suffer. It’s a tough spot.

At least what’s needed is for us to stop viewing it from just one side. That no one came to help, maybe there’s good reason why they didn’t, and if the tables were turned you may not have helped either (despite your well-intended fantasies to the contrary). Work to understand the complete picture, which from one person’s perspective may have been an incomplete picture thus the choices they made. Work to ensure you can take care of yourself, both in the moment and afterwards. Work to ensure you have full understanding before you plunge headlong. Don’t just work to have good intentions, work to be able to do actual good.

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