Selfish or Selfless On March 13, 1964, a young woman was murdered outside her residence in Queens, New York. Catherine (Kitty) Genovese was stalked and attacked on three separate occasions while thirty-eight eye witnesses, one of whom called the police, looked on. “If we had been called when he first attacked, the woman might not be dead,” said Assistant Chief Inspector Frederick M. Lussen. This incident drove investigators to research the psychological phenomenon now known as the bystander effect and the diffusion of responsibility.
There are people who are exceptions to these socially unacceptable phenomenons, such as Wesley Autrey, who jumped in after a young man who had fallen onto New York City’s subway tracks just before a train screeched into the station. Some individuals choose to put themselves in harms way while others would rather not get involved as long as it does not affect them. There are heroic individuals that will risk their lives for complete strangers and rescue the one in need of assistance.
While on his way to class on January 7, 2007, Cameron Hollopeter appeared to become disoriented after an apparent seizure, and he collapsed on the tracks of a Harlem subway stop. That’s when Wesley Autrey attempted to remove Cameron from the tracks but realized there was not enough time because there was an oncoming train approaching them, so he pinned the two of them in the drainage rut between the rails and waited for the train to pass over them. There are various reasons why certain people would endanger themselves to assist someone in need of aid.
Some choose to act because if the roles were reversed, they would hope someone would help them. Others simply believe it is the right thing to do under any circumstance. “I just saw someone who needed help,” Autrey told The New York Times. “I did what I felt was right. ” The bystander effect, individuals choosing not to act when others are around, is the exact opposite of the heroism some people exhibit. It is more likely to come into play when there is a large group present during the incident because the more people involved, the less responsibility felt by the individual.
A perfect example of this is the Kitty Genovese case where thirty-eight witnesses produced one phone call to the police after thirty-five minutes and several attacks. A neighbor of Genovese claimed, “I was tired. I went back to bed. ” Excuses are often given for lack of involvement; as a result, some people are too self involved to even notice, while others are more concerned with self preservation than they are with helping another. Some are afraid to take action because they doubt they can change the outcome of the situation, while others have families to think about.
In reality nothing excuses someone from doing something as simple as phoning the police when he or she witnesses a person in need of assistance. In order to further explore the depths of the bystander effect and why some choose to act, while others do not; ABC News televised a hidden camera experiment titled What Would You Do? This program uses various scenarios to gauge public reaction. One such incident involved actors staging an argument in New Jersey’s Saddle River County Park. Over the two day, sixteen hour taping, ninety-two men were captured by the cameras, but only five did anything to help.
One of the men who did not intervene, off duty police officer Jose, slowed down to get a closer look of the couple but said nothing. He said the argument was not physical enough to get involved, and he was also unarmed. One hundred women were also captured and fourteen of them either stopped or dialed 911. Amy, the manager at a local gym, chose to get involved and interrupted the argument by telling the man, “Would you get away from her? ” This show raises awareness for society’s lack of public apathy as a whole, but also celebrates those who choose to become involved in situations concerning others.
People are going to continue to have their own prerogatives and choose whether or not they become involved in something that does not necessarily concern them. One phone call could have made the difference between Genovese living rather than dying, while Autrey risked his life for a stranger in front of his two daughters. That is what a society consists of: people who are selfish and those who are selfless. Works Cited Martin Gansberg. “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police: Apathy at Stabbing of Queens Woman Shocks Inspector 37 SAW MURDER BUT DIDN’T CALL Path of Victim: Stabber’s Third Attack Was Fatal. New York Times (1923-Current file) 27 Mar. 1964, ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2006), ProQuest. Web. 17 Mar. 2010. Cara Buckley. “A Man Down, a Train Arriving, And a Stranger Makes a Choice. ” New York Times 3 Jan. 2007, Late Edition (East Coast): New York Times, ProQuest. Web. 17 Mar. 2010. ABC News: Hidden Camera Experiment: What Would You Do? ABC News. November 22, 2005. Web. 17 Mar. 2010.