One day in grade 4, after lunch, the bell had rung (my friend and I were often late; dilly-dallying was an art form we had perfected) and the school yard was clearing out.
We passed by the ditch that ran between the road and the school property. It had been a particularly rainy fall, so the ditch was a few feet deep with mud and rotting leaves and water. In the ditch was a younger boy, grade 1 or 2 maybe, stuck up to his knees in the muck. He was crying, calling for help, and by how wet he was from the rain, had obviously been there for quite some time.
My friend and I were both quite small for our age, always in the front row in class pictures. We looked around for teachers on yard duty, but they had all gone inside. We searched for older kids to help, but everyone was running into the school, afraid to be late.
So I did what I felt I had to do. I climbed into the ditch with the boy, straddling the mud so I wouldn’t get stuck, too. My friend did the same thing. We grabbed his hands and his arms and pulled as hard as we could, until we heard the SHHHLURP of his feet popping out of the muck.
He was boot-less, soaking wet, covered in mud, but fine. I reached into the puddle, pulled out his boots, and he ran off to class.
I never caught the boy’s name, or at least I don’t remember it, but that was the first time I Did Something.
Two years later, nearly the same scenario. My same friend and I were on our way back to school, late as usual. This time it was late spring and the weather was beautiful.
Across the street from the school was one of those grayish-green post office boxes. The kind that get knocked down by bored teenagers almost every night. We, again, heard a little boy crying and yelling for help. He had gotten his leg stuck underneath the box, which was newly horizontal.
We were older (grade 6ers are so much more mature than grade 4’s) and stronger, so we didn’t waste time trying to find help. Between the two of us, using all of our strength and will power, we somehow lifted the box just enough for the boy to wiggle out.
Again the boy ran off, without thanking us, scared of the consequences of being late for school.
Another two years later, by myself this time, I was walking the 45 minutes home from middle school along the main thruway in town. For a small town like ours, it could get quite busy.
Almost at my street, I noticed a boy about 3 years old, pulling a wagon containing a girl about a year and a half. My Danger Radar going off, I looked around and saw no adults in the area. Just a bunch of teenagers and pre-teens coming home from high school and senior public.
I asked the boy where he was going. For a walk, I was informed.
I asked him if he knew where he lived. Yup, he said. That way, pointing behind him.
Can I walk with you back to your house? I asked.
Mmm…sure, he agreed.
Can I help you with this wagon?
He led me to a cute little bungalow, at least two full blocks from where I found him. Two blocks away from his house, pulling his baby sister in a wagon, along a busy street.
When we got to his home, his grandmother was there. I don’t remember her reaction exactly (this is an 18-year-old memory), but I do remember she was shocked and grateful.
None of these instances were immediate life or death situations. The two boys at school probably wouldn’t have died or even been hurt by being stuck the way they were, but they needed help. The toddler and his sister were in a bit more of an emergency situation, given the street they were walking down, how easily they could have gotten lost, and the possibility of someone…unfriendly…finding them instead of me.
In all three cases, I was not the first person to see that something needed to be done, but I was the only person to Do Something (with my friend, in the first two). I was a child myself – just 9, 11, and 13 in each instance – and I knew I had to step in. I know for a fact that there were many older kids, teenagers and even some adults who saw these children needing help and decided to not Do Something.
I read this today. It comes from one of my favourite websites, listverse.com, and it’s a list of 10 Notorious Cases of the Bystander Effect. I perhaps shouldn’t have read it and would warn you before reading it that it includes disturbing (but not graphic) images and disturbing (and very graphic) descriptions. I’m not one to shy away from reading things that evoke anger and emotion and frustration, but this one hit hard. More than once I had to take a break from reading and regain my mental and emotional composure.
The author compiled the list after reading about the attack at Richmond High School.
After reading the list in its entirety, I began to think about Doing Something. The instances above where I Did Something. Remembering times when I should have Done Something and Didn’t. Deciding which situations I wouldn’t Do Something, even if I wanted to. Thankfully, I’ve never had to make those decisions about anything nearly as critical as those presented in the list.
Perhaps I’ve seen parents smoking close to their children and should have spoken up, but would they change their habit? Probably not.
Perhaps I have seen children bullying other children and should have stepped in, but would they cease to antagonize each other after I left? Probably not.
Perhaps I’ve passed by a homeless person, begging for money and should have given what I had, but would that make a lasting change for them? Probably not.
But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have done it. I should have tried. I should have Done Something.
We should all Do Something, every time we can. We should make an effort to step up, to advocate for those who can’t defend themselves, to call 911 when help beyond our abilities is needed. We shouldn’t stand back and let things happen because we’re afraid of the consequences or too desensitized to care.
If you see an animal who needs to be removed from an abusive or neglectful home, call animal services.
If you see someone who has just fallen off their bike, stop and ask if they’re ok.
If you see a child alone in a park, ask them where their parents are. If they’re not supposed to talk to strangers, tell your own child to ask them.
If you see a person on the street every day on your way to work, bring an extra bagel with you and give it to them.
If you see a situation that may be dangerous for you to get involved in (like the Richmond High School attack), call 911 away from where you’ll be seen.
So, tell me or tell yourself – would you Do Something?
And before you answer that, remember that every person is someone’s child. If you answer that you wouldn’t Do Something because you might get harmed in the process, remember that someone else is answering the same way and not Doing Something to help your child.