The Bystander Effect: Why we don’t always act and what we can do about it

(published in Bonjour France, 19 March 2017)

TheSans titre other day, like many days in this beautiful city, I found myself stuck in the chaos that is the RER A with trains delayed for up to 2 hours. People were naturally frustrated, it being rush hour and all, but someone’s frustration got the better of him as he aggressively lashed out at transport personnel and security was eventually called. Nobody reacted (except for a few head nods) and nobody intervened (myself included).

Our increasingly (false) sense of anonymity, especially when living in a large city, can directly defuse our sense of responsibility as social influence leads us to turn the other cheek when witnessing a distressing situation. Be it out of fear of getting hurt ourselves or just not being aware of the danger the situation poses to someone else, we are more likely to intervene and help someone when no one else is around… in a crowd, we’re a bystander.

The “Bystander Effect” is a psychological phenomenon that refers to situations where people do not offer any kind of help to a victim when other people are present. J. Darley and B Latané first popularised the concept showing how the probability of help can be directly related to the number of bystanders present.

On social media our ‘outrage’ is shown by sharing viral videos of bullying, discrimination and often downright illegal acts against others. We share this with the best intentions to raise awareness and stop things like this from happening again, but when push comes to shove, would we act and help when witnessing such a scenario in real-life?

The Bystander Effect can be seen in many situations from bullying at school or the workplace, harassment in public , to dangerous protests that run out of hand. This does not mean people are scum and we enjoy witnessing others getting hurt.  In many cases, people feel that since there are other people around, surely someone else will leap into action.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why we freeze and refrain from helping others, and what we could do about it?

CAUSES OF BYSTANDER EFFECTS

Fear and uneasiness 

Sometimes we don’t know the entire backstory of what we are witnessing and doubts lead us to question whether we should intervene or not. We are afraid we might make a fool of ourselves if our intervention is not appreciated and we look to our peers for guidance and asses their reactions to the same situation. If nobody else takes action, perhaps we don’t fully understand what is happening and we best mind our own business, right?

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Often when faced with something out of the ordinary, we don’t immediately recognise what is happening nor how to react to it. Our delayed reaction in helping someone in distress could merely be as a result of our brain still processing what it is witnessing.

“Diffusion of Responsibility” 

Research shows when others are around, our personal sense of responsibility decreases. We believe that someone else would have probably called for help already, or is doing something to help. We are more likely to help others if we are alone, as we feel the responsibility to act relies solely on us.

Minimal knowledge or qualifications 

In some cases (especially medical emergencies) we tend to stand back and wait for someone with the right qualifications or experience. We’re afraid we might hurt the person even more as we wait for a professional to intervene.

Minding our own business 

We’ve all experienced or heard stories where someone has tried to help someone in alleged distress, and their good deed went and bit them right back in the bum as they got involved in a tricky situation and got hurt themselves. To avoid any hassles, we turn the other cheek and mind our own business.

Misinterpretation of a situation 

Adding onto the above point, we often look away because we wrongly assess a situation or are influenced by common misconceptions. You’d be surprised at what is considered ‘okay’ these days as we witness a woman being harassed, even though she was flirty earlier; or we watch a man get into a bar fight with two others, but he’d been drinking so perhaps he started it …

Now that we understand some of the reasons why we don’t always jump to act, we could look at ways to overcome this psychological phenomenon and be more aware ourselves.

I’m not suggesting we all go wear superhero capes and go vigilante on anyone showing inappropriate or dangerous behavior, but rather, how can we start with ourselves in diminishing this diffusion of responsibility and engaging in our own helping behaviors?

HOW TO OVERCOME THE BYSTANDER EFFECT?

Awareness

Recognising the signs can make a big difference. Signs can be noticed, by trusting our intuition or educating ourselves on certain topics.

Example: An air hostess was able to recognise the signs of human trafficking on one of her flights when she saw a well-dressed man accompany a raged and distressed teenager. She approached the girl behind the man’s back and quickly found out the girl was being taken away against her will. She was quick to notify police on the ground, who were waiting to interrogate the man as they landed.

Another example, perhaps more recognisable in our everyday life, was when a young woman was being harassed by a man on the metro. He was not being overly aggressive, however, was subtly whispering threats and harassing her physically amongst busy morning commuters who did not seem to take notice, or thought it was a couple having a small dispute. One woman saw the girl’s irritation/anxiety and pretended to know her to strike up a conversation. The man quickly left the girl alone and excited the train.

Sometimes being aware of a situation and acting, however small this may be, could help someone and change the outcome of a potentially negative or dangerous scenario.

Witness or Role model helpful Behavior 

Sometimes we just need to think what we would want people to do, if we were in the “victim’s” situation. What if that had been my daughter, son, friend, parent, sibling… Sometimes just seeing other people doing something kind or helpful makes us more willing to help others.

If we’re too afraid to get hurt ourselves, or we see that our direct intervention would only escalate the situation, call for help.

If we see that action from a few people could deter the ‘attacker’, make eye contact with others and try to solicit a group intervention.

Sometimes making eye contact with or simply acknowledging the ‘attacker’ and their behaviour can be enough.

Education and Training

Knowing specific ways to help in certain situations can often be enough to give us the confidence to act and help. People who have been trained professionally in assisting in emergency situation, often find it second nature to help others where needed.

We don’t need to go and study for years to get the right qualifications in order to help others. Often we can find community training workshops related to sexual assault, self-defense, bullying, recognizing suspicious behaviors etc. Such programs teach us the best (and safest) way to react in certain situations. When all else fails, we can do some personal e-learning online and read up on topics that may interest us.

For example, since the terror attacks in France, campaigns have increasingly informed people on how to recognize, and report suspicious behaviors, abandoned luggage, signs of radicalization and general safety tips in the event of another attack.

Just remember that it only takes one person to stand up and say ‘this is wrong’ in order for others to see it and act too.

Always try to help somebody in whichever way possible, because you might just be the only one …

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Parenting Wars: Bringing Balance to the Force..

Episode II

“It is a period of subliminal unrest. Online forums, striking from a hidden base, have won their first battle in spreading insecurity within the Parenting Galaxy. During the clashes, parenting styles were dissected and misinformation lead to judgement and ridicule .The Internet, an armored entity with enough power to destroy an entire mindset, left parents confused and turning against each other. 

Joining the battle in keeping the peace, Stef attempts to write a blog, with the help of Yoda, to try and aid her people and restore freedom of choice to the galaxy…” 

I always sensed it.. I had heard stories.. but I was never confronted with the force until I became a parent myself. I’m most certainly not the first, and definitely will not the last, to write a post on the ongoing tension between parents and the different parenting styles out there, but I wanted to throw my perception on the topic in the mix as well… trying to channel the great Master Yoda.. yoda-photo-drawing

(Note: before you have me committed to the psych ward, I am fully aware Yoda is a fictional character created by George Lucas in the Star Wars Space Opera franchise and therefore not real..)

1. No true parenting style, there is ..

There is no such thing as the one and only, perfect parenting style. There’s already enough conflict around the religions people practice and the political parties they vote for, and don’t even get me started on the ‘tight are not pants’ or ‘is the dress blue or yellow debate’! Why should we add more stress and fight over the best way to raise our child? “There is no such thing as a perfect parent, so just be a real one” – (S. Atkins.)

2. “Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view” 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreeing with a particular parenting style. But before you go and condemn someone and call them a ‘hippie’ for practicing attachment parenting or mumbling ‘nazi’ as an authoritarian parent disciplines their child, educate yourself on what is out there. I believe there is not one true solution to each problem. Every parent and every child is different and what may work wonders for one, does nothing for the other. When you don’t understand someone’s reasoning, try and see it from their point of view (that does not mean you have to agree or understand it.. but just to respect it..)

3. To only one style, limit yourself, you should not..

I’m a very indecisive person at best, picking a restaurant with me can be an absolute nightmare! I’ll be craving pizza with just a side of sushi but really that Indian place has the best Naan… So it was no surprise that when it came to parenting, I could not make up my mind on which style to follow and implement. I like the idea of giving my children choices and trying to negotiate with them on certain topics, but then again I am also a very firm believer in having boundaries and routines to guide them. I don’t believe in physical punishment, but have no problem putting my 3 year old in the corner as she calms down from what I can only describe as a satanic episode. I want my child to explore the world around them, but often I also have to say the word ‘no’ (quite often actually). I don’t believe the child needs to adjust to the parents’ schedule or vice versa for that matter. I think both parties need to compromise and the family works together as a unit to try and have a happy, balanced life for everyone. Children need affection, love and attention.. no doubt.. but sometimes mommy also needs 20 minutes and that glass of wine..

4. “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering” 

(yes, I’m channeling Star Wars in case we hadn’t picked up on that yet). 😉   In today’s society where the internet bombards us with factual and fictional information, we are torn between what we truly believe works for us and what we fear others will think of that (and I’m not only talking about parenting here).  Rather than being proud of the way we parent, we often feel as if we have to justify why we do things a certain way. This underlying defensiveness blocks us from sharing experiences with each other and learning from others. Rather than passing on what we have learned, we hold back out of fear of sounding judgmental and minding our own business. There is nothing wrong in sharing what we know.. as long as we do it with respect and not through judgement.

5. “A Jedi uses the force for knowledge and defense. Never for attack”

Elaborating on the above point of sharing information with each other… share it to do good, not to judge or attack. If a parent is struggling, positive comments such as “what worked for us was…”, “you’re doing great, have you tried….?”, “We’ve been there..” etc can be useful and comforting. Comments that focus on attacking someone’s parenting only encourages the divide that is already there. An example that comes to mind is when I heard someone tell my attachment-parenting friend that the reason they weren’t sleeping well with their 2 month old was because co-sleeping is not the way to go….*pause* you see, to me the reason they weren’t sleeping well is because… ding ding ding… they have a 2 month old!?! I don’t co-sleep myself because it’s not for my husband and I, but I have many friends who do with perfectly happy kiddos and it works just fine for them.. so no dramas here if you ask me.  Don’t get upset if someone does not take your advise, don’t take it personal if your advise did not work for them and if you have one of those  mythical ‘Oh-my-child-never-does-*insert negative behavior*’ children.. that’s amazing news… keep it to yourself.

 

6. “Truly wonderful the mind of a child is”

I think the most important thing that should be present in every parenting, is the love and respect for our children. At the end of the day, the way we parent directly affects our children.. we’re going to screw them up no matter how we go about it, so we might as well focus on what works best for us and them, as long as they know they are loved and protected and pass on the same courtesy to others.

7. Reckless you be, matters get worse 

As much as I support and preach the need to be open minded and respect other’s decisions, it goes without saying that this too falls within reason!  There is no condoning child abuse or recklessness where a child is placed at direct risk of harm. Everyone has their own rating scale of what they consider to be reckless and harmful, and that unfortunately I cannot change, so I’m basing this on my own experiences as a child psychologist and former child safety officer. From where I stand, if you physically harm your child (I’m not talking a spanking here or a tap on the hands, I’m talking abuse) you are wrong. If you demean your child and emotionally batter them (I’m not talking about raising your voice or getting angry, I’m talking abuse) you are wrong. Then there are the grey areas that are not necessarily illegal… I must admit, if you choose to not vaccinate your child with the basics or let your child die because you do not believe in blood transfusions or modern medicine.. I find it very hard to understand and respect that decision, and for that I’m sorry.

8. A parent, you must not necessarily be, to support 

You don’t have to be a parent in order to help someone or give advice on parenting. There is also no parenting level of who knows it better depending on how many children one has or how old they are. You don’t ‘level up’ every time you have a child… Everyone has their own experiences and many of these can be second hand and just as valuable. It does take a village to raise a child and the more we know, the more we have to work with..

9.” Do or do not, there is no try “

Just dive in… sink or swim. Parenting is all about figuring out what works best and going with the flow (or sometimes being swallowed and dragged down the stream by the flow). Nobody knows it all.. although some may claim they do, and sadly they will never find out that they don’t. Just do the absolute best that you can..

10. Your example, your child follow, it will 

At the end of the day, let’s just focus on raising children that are tolerant of others (even when those others are different), that love one another (even when the others are being a butt) and that have the confidence to live in a society where we all just live our lives the best way we can.. together. In other words.. don’t be a dick and your child will follow by example…

As usual I haven’t written anything new here but I do hope I managed to share some of the love and show other parents out there that we’re not at war.. we’re raising the new generation, with all it’s beautiful variety (warts and everything) as we aim for our children to have a great life.. and there’s many different ways to give that to them

wars

 

 

 

“Preventive Thinking”: 10 Self Defence Tips

Based on the staggering amount of stories and stats out there, it seems legit to say that we can never completely protect ourselves from being attacked/assaulted. However, there are things we can do to reduce the risk in certain situations. Of course life cannot be lived to the fullest if we’re constantly paranoid and looking over our shoulders, but you’d be surprised how many little tweaks here and there can get us out of sticky (and sometimes potentially dangerous) situations.

Personal safety is a must and does not require you to be able to kick ass with some high tech self defence moves (always handy to know a few though) when someone jumps you. But preventative thinking might minimize the risk of having to use those moves in the first place.

A lot of these will probably sound very familiar, in which case take it as a refresher, but even if just one person walks away from reading this post with some new information that could help in a unsafe situation, it’s worth it.

1) Be Prepared: “What if..”

You know how sometimes you lie in bed and wonder: “If the Zombie Apocalypse were to happen, where would I hide and what would I do?” Apply that totally random thinking to potential everyday situations. This doesn’t mean you need to check the bed every night for a burglar or walk every dark street with shaky legs… but rather picture yourself in various unsafe situations and ask yourself what you would/could? (E.g: if someone were to jump you as you pass that alley, if someone were to enter your home/hotel room, if someone grabs you in the bar etc).

I read somewhere that a man, afraid of flying, would always quickly picture what he would do in case of a crash. Low and behold, this dude did in fact experience a plane crash and his brain kicked into fight mode as he was able to save his family while other passengers still sat stunned in their seats. All because he had mentally prepared himself as to what he would do in the event of..

2) Turn Down the Music

When walking on your own or going for a jog, be alert (this does not mean jumping at every noise) but make sure your headphones are not too loud or that your attention is not solely on your phone screen, and be aware of where you are going.

3) Key in Hand

When walking to your car, hold your car keys in your fist with the point sticking out. In the event of a possible attack, it can be used as a ‘jabby’ little weapon to get away (doing this all the time will help turning it into a useful little habit as well). Note: Please don’t start jabbing people who stole your parking spot or the annoying toddler chucking a tantrum…potential attackers only!

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4) Drinks Up

The good old ‘watch your drink’ in a bar tip. Easier said than done, but an important one none the less, as it happens way too often. Watch your drink or have a friend watch it for you. If a random stranger offers to buy you a beer, accompany them to the bar. If you start feeling weird, and believe your drink may have been spiked, alert a friend or security staff straight away. Better to make a fool of yourself then to end up in a bath full of ice missing a kidney (overreaction I know, but you catch my drift)

5) Car Park Safety

When you’re walking to your car and see a van or other suspicious looking vehicle parked next to yours, there is nothing wrong looking like a total idiot crawling into your car through the passenger side.

Always glance at the backseat before getting in and lock your doors immediately. Again, this may sound like a paranoid checklist, but doing these things regularly will turn them into fast and efficient habits and you won’t even realise you do them after a while.

6) Dress to Impress

I most certainly do not believe that a person’s style or how they look is a justification for being attacked, (‘no’ mean s ‘no’ mother f*%&r)but certain little tweaks can help in a sticky situation. Wearing your hear in a pony tail whilst jogging can make it easier for someone to grab on to (of course we don’t all run around with a perfect blow dried do, but perhaps consider putting your hair in a tighter bun). Wearing clothing that isn’t too easy to remove can sometimes also deter possible attackers.

7) ‘Confront or on Fire’

Often confronting someone who you believe is following you, can throw them off their game. You don’t have to 180 leap on them screaming ‘why you following me rapeeeerrrrr!!’ but simply asking for the time (as you take a good look at them) can be enough. Attackers often prefer to jump someone who hasn’t seen their face. In the unsafe event of being hassled, you’re better off calling out ‘FIRE’ in order to attract attention as people don’t react as swiftly to ‘help me’ anymore.

8) Strength in Numbers

When going to an event where you don’t know many people, it’s always good to go with a friend or two. Touch base with each other throughout the night and try to leave together or tell each other when you go home. Note: Probably not a good idea when you’re going on a date.. bit awkward…but you can always adjust and just let your friends know where you will be and who you are meeting.

9) Body Language

Walking with your head up, confident and determined to where you are headed, can go a long way. This doesn’t mean you need to puff up your chest and walk as if you’re looking for a fight, death staring every stranger that crosses your path.

10) Trust Your Gut

There is no better risk radar than your own instinct. If you don’t feel safe around someone, avoid being alone with them. If a little voice warns you to watch out for that street, walk around the block.

It’s better to be safe than sorry.

A total cliché, I know, but true nonetheless

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“All that’s naughty”: Tips for when you’re craving Junk Food

As I write this, I have been craving a juicy, cheesy, oh so naughty cheeseburger for about 2 weeks now. With fries on the side, topped with chocolate sauce, and Cheetos as an entree. Am I pregnant with weird ass food cravings? No I am not (don’t worry honey if you read this, still perfectly busy with the first little rug rat).

It happens (about once a month funnily enough… ladies, …you feel me) where I have the biggest cravings for all that is bad for me, which I’ve branded as “the naughties”. I feel like a bottomless pit as I fantasize about stuffing that entire block of cheddar into my already-full-of-M&M’s gobbler.

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Being one of those hypocrites who can hand out the advice, but not necessarily stick to it myself, I thought to share some useful tips with the attempt to motivate myself to do the same.

1) What’s not there, can’t be eaten

Try and not have junk food in the house where possible. Sometimes craving that bag of chips or chocolate bar can be suppressed quite quickly when you realise you’d have to get out of your slippers and Snoopy pyjamas in order to go to the corner store. If the craving is really THAT bad, you end up walking to the store in set attire whilst most people stare and then well… you pretty much deserve a little bite of that naughty…. for the commitment and dedication.

2) Identify the naughties and their triggers

Find out what exactly you tend to crave when you crave a naughty. Is it McDonalds, chocolate, chips, sweets, all of the above? And are there any triggers that come along with it? Some people often lean towards junk food when they are bored, sleep deprived, drunk, emotionally distressed or when a drop in blood sugar levels occurs. Try and find other solutions to these triggers… get some rest, have some fruit juice or have a mini work-out to get rid of any excess stress.

3) Find alternatives to the naughties

Are there any alternatives for your particular naughty food? For example, if you really like the crunching of chips in front of Grey’s Anatomy, why not opt for (unsalted and unbuttered) popcorn instead? If you must have that chocolate fix, opt for 70% or more cacao dark chocolate. And if McDonalds secretly calls you over, a cup of Miso Soup might get rid of your craving for a salty kick.

4) Don’t starve yourself

Some of us (and by that I mean me) tend to skip some meals during the day because there are no real hunger pangs and you think “oh well… less calories for the day right?” Wrong. Your body goes into starvation mode as blood sugar levels go down and those hunger pangs catch up with you as you find yourself hunting the house for food. Usually that food turns into fast food or something easy (and often less healthy). So eat during the day to avoid the hunger beast later where you find yourself standing in front of an open fridge in the middle of the night eating its entire content (feels like)

5) Moderation of the naughties

If you really can’t fight the urge any longer and your dog is starting to look like a Big Mac or you’re a heartbeat away from just squirting the mayonnaise straight into your mouth… It’s ok to cave in and indulge once in a while!! But when you do, try and do it in moderation. Order a small meal at your favourite junk food palace, only have a small bowl of chips or ice cream (don’t put the entire bag in your lap… it will get finished, I guarantee it) and have only a few blocks from your big chocolate bar. Really take your time to enjoy and savour every bite and you might just be able to push the craving down again with that little bit of satisfaction.

6) Have healthy snacks handy

If one of your triggers is that you’re bored or too busy to make a healthy meal; try and prep some food for the week that is healthy and easy to just grab out of the fridge. For example, cut up some vegetables and have a lower calorie dip ready to go. Or to avoid feeling like a rabbit munching on a stick of celery, smear a little peanut butter on top (delish!). Popcorn can be pre-popped and stored in a container for the munchies and even some vegetable or fruit juice can help silence that sweet tooth.

7) I like to move it, move it

Doing exercise can bring up your blood sugar levels and kill any boredom. Going for a small walk after a meal can decrease some of the cravings that might come after (and get your metabolism going as well).

8) Eat a high protein breakfast

Having a high protein breakfast like eggs, nuts, seeds help you feel fuller, starts your metabolism, cut short cravings and burn calories. Seems like a winner! But if you’re anything like me your efforts into making a nice fulfilling breakfast usually stop once you’ve brewed that first cup of coffee. (Correction: Once you’ve pressed the ‘on’ button and your Dolce Gusto Machine brewed your first cup of coffee). Alternatively, if you really can’t be bothered, have a protein shake and a boiled egg (which you pre-boiled a few days ago along with 5 other friends, one for each day of the workweek).

Hope some of these help as I leave you now to go off to the store to by some freakin’ Miso soup and celery sticks!

Tickle, Tickle, *Fart*..Snore – Life Recipe: Getting a Massage

As much fun as getting a massage once a week would be, most of us don’t have that cash just lying around and would rather spend it on more useful things like, I don’t know, food.. But whenever I’m able to put that little extra aside, I like to treat myself to having someone knead out all the knots and cranks accumulated over the last few months…. and just ahhhh ‘zen’.

Unfortunately I’m also one of those people who will think the most inappropriate thoughts at the most inappropriate times, am prone to fits of giggles, rather ticklish, and tend to be somewhat gassy at the most unfortunate moments as well.  Safe to say, I had to find myself of few coping strategies in order to enjoy my much-loved massages over the years.

1)      If you are ticklish (I seriously hate hate being tickled) you don’t want your massage therapist to be working on a wriggling, swirling body on their table, who cracks up every 3 minutes going: “ahahaha, hihihihi… stop iii-iiit”. Not fun and tends to take away the benefits of an effective massage.  I used to try and think of sad things like dead puppies and the whaling industry, but one day I got carried away and ended up crying on the table (freaking out the poor masseuse in the process). So my new thing to do, to prevent me from involuntarily slapping the poor girl/guy, is to go to a happy place; a favorite scenery if you will. A place where I don’t need to think, but just enjoy being in the moment. Yesterday, however, my scenery changed from a beautiful green meadow to orange autumn leaves, and then a mystical dock in the ocean….. Until I realized my mind was taking me through the Windows XP slideshow of template backgrounds… (spending too much time behind the laptop much?)

2)      If you tend to think the most awkward thoughts at the most unsuitable times, point (1) can also work for you there.

3)      Keeping up with the trend of improper things to do during a massage…when the need to fart arises…. Don’t do it! You just suck that thing back in where it came from until you get stomach cramps! The last thing your massage therapist wants to smell, whilst working on your glutes, are the nasty toxins they are so kindly massaging out for you.

4)      As I myself, do not have a penis, I can’t speak from experience here… but some of my male friends have told me stories of unintentional ‘arousal’ if you will, when receiving a massage. If this unfortunate event would happen to you, I would recommend you ignore it and just lay there embarrassed and quietly whilst thinking of your great aunt Judie’s mustache or picturing Steve Buscemi naked. I’m sure they have seen it all before and are used to it. What you shouldn’t do though, is wink and ask them if they want to ‘help you out with it’… no no…just..no. Don’t be ‘that’ guy.

5)      And some more useful (and less messed up) tips when getting a massage would be to avoid eating just before and allowing your body to digest your food first, breathe normally and relax your mind, and drink lots of water afterwards.

Relax and Enjoy!