The Bystander Effect

Yesterday in my philosophy class we talked about the bystander effect. We talked about how a group of people will stand and watch a child drown purely because there are other people there. People seem to have a mentality of “no one else is helping, why should I?” It’s why the genocide of the Jews in Germany was even possible.

It’s also why there are millions of starving children in the wold. We talked about how it seems that a person who is able to help should be morally obligated to from an egalitarian viewpoint. We talked about how people act based on social norms and an innate sense of self preservation and how this does not  seem to correlate with egalitarianism or a common sense of compassion.

It disturbed me a little in class, but we have talked about this kind of thing numerous times before in other classes mainly on a theoretical level. It sunk in however when I read an add in the school bulletin that gets sent out once a day via email. A girl was asking for help with a public speaking project she had coming up and I almost replied, but then I thought, “Well, she probably already has several other people offering to help her and I’m busy.” It is midterms. What if everyone else was “too busy” as well? I most likely have a few hours to spare some time this week. Am I morally obligated to help that girl?

Something else struck me today. I remembered that Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you.” Why? Is it because people aren’t helping? Is it because of economic or social structures, as some would argue? Do they bring poverty upon themselves? Is it forced upon them? What bothers me most is that word always. Is there nothing we can do to stop it? Is poverty an undying force that can’t be stopped?

A question that plenty of people deal with all the time is; why, if God is good does he allow suffering? I don’t have an answer to that. Everyone suffers in one way or another. It’s because we live in an imperfect world. What I really don’t get is why some people suffer WAY more than others. What’s more is that often times, the more people suffer, the stronger their faith is. In fact, many people bring suffering upon themselves to strengthen their spiritual life. The thing about our God is that he suffered for us, and he suffers with us. I know that, but I don’t entirely know what it means. God is with us and he is with us in our suffering, but what does it mean that he suffers too? I think if I could figure that out I would understand a lot of other things as well.

Last semester in my creative nonfiction writing class I read a short piece called “Being Christ to the Traveler.” In short it was about a guy who offers to hold a drunk guy’s flowers while he pees out the door of a train (the guy had evidently just broken up with his girlfriend). We can help anyone by doing little things like that, but it takes so much more to help the poor or the people dying of AIDS over in Africa.

The thing is, I basically don’t have anything saved. If it weren’t for my parents I’d be dead on the street somewhere, but as it stands I live in an awesome house in a nice, safe neighborhood, I go to a super nice college and took guitar lessons for five years. I personally am very poor. I have a part time job, but because of school and music I don’t work much and I make peanuts; actually less than peanuts.

All the money I’ve saved or that I make goes to recording my first album, and that’s where I’m conflicted. My plan/hope is to be able to live off of music and have a little extra to send to charities, etc. What we talked about in my philosophy class was this; is it more morally right to take the money one spends on college/recording/whatever and just give that to charity, or should one wait, go through college/recording/gigging/whatever and ultimately be able to do much more and help many more people? I don’t know.

I guess a good compromise is to help who you can when you can, how you can, but I don’t think it’s quite as satisfying as being able to say you got a kid out of poverty. I guess we’re not supposed to look for satisfaction out of helping people. Again, I’m probably thinking about this too much.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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