Cynric Whitaker recently put up a piece on the blog in the Art of Manliness Community that I wanted to re-post here on the Trunk. One of the questions I see pop up from time to time in the Community, and something I’ve pondered myself, is the question of when a man should step into a situation where he sees something wrong going on. There’s a big spectrum here, from incidents where most men would step in (a man is assaulting a woman), to those where some men would do or say something and some wouldn’t (you’re at a baseball game with your young son and the fan next to you is using foul language).
Anyway, so I’ll post Cynric’s piece, and then I invite everyone to discuss the question of when and where a man should step into a situation and where you draw the line.
I recently published an article on my website (www.theheroscape.com) about an incident that occurred while I was at the zoo with my little brother. Basically I happened upon a 13 year old kid spitting into the ponds and streams of several exhibits.
Even as I write this, almost a week later, it strikes me how many people were there who saw the same thing I did, but did nothing. It seemed a classic example of the Bystander Effect, a social phenomenon where a person does not offer any assistance or do anything to intervene in a crisis situation because of the presence of others. It seems strange to think that we are less inclined to take action when there are other people around, but studies have proven this to be true. The more ‘other people’ are present the less likely an individual is to take personal responsibility for doing something.
This wasn’t a crisis by any means. But I imagine people were shaking their heads and grumbling about what they saw. “Where are his parents?”. “Somebody should do something.”.
In my mind “somebody” should have been any adult who noticed. And this incident highlighted one of the failings of our society. Nobody wants to get involved. Nobody wants to take responsibility. If no one intervenes now when his crimes are relatively small, what will happen if this kind of behavior escalates to vandalism or something else? Where will he learn that society will hold him accountable for what he does, which can reinforce one of the foundations of manhood in a boy who is just beginning to discover his strength and power: respect.
It reminds me of the scene in The Dark Knight where Harvey Dent holds a press conference to announce that the Batman has offered to turn himself in. The citizens, even the police officers are scared and they’re willing to trade their liberty, their right to a peaceful and just society for a promise of safety. In the bargain is nothing to end crime; and by allowing this they shackle themselves like a woman facing a mugger. “Take what you want,” they say. “Just don’t hurt me.”
A man can’t be a bystander and consider himself a man. When others whisper ‘someone should do something’ he must be the one to spring into action, whether it be alone or with a dozen like minded men at his side. In times of calamity or relative calm, whether fighting for a cause or defending the public trust, a man must act. To do otherwise is to betray all of us.