Sometimes you just don’t know. And if you don’t know, I don’t think you should get involved.
This past Saturday night, around 9 PM or so, I was driving the family back home from visiting friends. We pull up to a stop-light at a large intersection: highway runs north-south, we’re on the cross-street (going under the highway), there’s a gas station next to us, lights, people.
I see a young man and young woman, the man is carrying a large sign. It looks to be an advertising banner (e.g. “Hot Dog & Soda, $5” or some such thing) to put on the roadside to try to draw customer into the gas station. I thought perhaps the sign blew over and this guy was recovering it, or maybe given the time the station was closing and a worker pulling in the sign for the night, or maybe one of those “sign twirler guys” calling it a night.
“Sign guy” walks over to a street light pole that has someone sitting at the base of it. Sign guy wraps the sitting guy up in the banner sign and starts beating him!
After a few seconds of punching, sign guy (and the female he was with) continue walking down the side walk. Sitting dude pulls the sign off himself, and continues to just sit there.
It became a teachable moment for my family.
First, would I have intervened? Highly unlikely. I have my family in the car, and THEIR safety is paramount to me. No, I don’t want to see someone get beat up, but if I get involved it could risk the safety of my family and I cannot do that.
Second, what happened? My kids’ response was that “sign guy” was the jerk. But was he?
Maybe the sitting-guy did something to sign-guy’s lady, and sign-guy was defending her (honor).
No one seemed that beat up, and the punches didn’t seem like much either. Maybe they were friends and messing around?
Or maybe in fact sign-guy was the jerk.
The problem is we don’t know. We don’t know the story, and if we interfere we risk getting it wrong. We see the guy getting beat as the victim, but maybe he’s the perpetrator. So what happens if we get involved and actually assist the bad guy?
This is a danger in getting involved in someone else’s business. You risk not knowing the whole (or enough) of the story, and you risk getting it wrong and possibly making the situation worse. I grant this is a tough thing, because we want to help. Plus we bemoan the state of our society where it’s a common exhortation that “everyone stands around and does nothing”. Every situation is different, and you have to take them as they come; but as a general rule, I’d rather not get involved if there’s risk to my personal safety, the safety of my loved ones, and a good chance involvement could make the situation worse. Better to choose options that make the situation better (think about what those could be).
Consider this from another angle.
Consider how your actions might be viewed by someone else.
If you jumped in, might someone else rolling up to the scene view YOU as the aggressor, as the attacker, as the jerk, as the person in need of “corrective action”?
Or how about if you find yourself in a legitimate self-defense situation (of yourself)? You have a gun out, someone else sees it. How do you think YOU will be viewed? How about when the police roll on scene? They will see “person with a gun”, and what conclusions do you think they will reasonably jump to?
Lessons to learn: get the whole story (or at least enough of the story), and remember that you too may be viewed with a partial (or incorrect) story. Carry yourself accordingly.