Bystander Or Defender?
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Politics and Activism

Bystander Or Defender?

What do you do when you witness the unthinkable?

Bystander Or Defender?

Last Thursday night (or Friday morning, depending on how you look at it), I was walking back to my house from my on-campus job around 1:45 am. The night was cold and still as I quietly crunched through the leaves on the sidewalks. About halfway home, I heard, “STOP!” clearly shouted nearby. No surprise, I stopped dead in my tracks and whipped my head back and forth, looking for the source of the disturbance. There were a couple of people who were walking in front of me, and they didn’t pause or look around, so I started walking again, trying to convince myself that I really didn’t hear a panicked voice yelling or that she was just drunk and kidding with her friends if I did.

These were the thoughts that were running through my head as I turned the corner of a building and saw a girl being pressed up against a tree by a boy. I was still a little way off from the two, but I could make out her struggling form in the half light, her now pleading with the boy, “Please, no, don’t, stop,” over and over and over again. I froze, unable to really process what was happening in front of me. A quick glance over to the two people in front of me slowly but steadily walking away from her told me that I was the one who had to act, but how, I didn’t know.

The “fight or flight response” is a method first purposed by Walter Bradford Cannon. When a human is presented with a stressful or threatening situation, he or she has an automatic response to either run away from the problem or to fight their way through it. Neither method is necessarily more effective than the other; however, a human has a tendency to choose one or the other. In this moment, I felt the same immediate question. “Should I stay, or should I go?” was running through my mind. Should I intervene, possibly risking my safety, to help a girl I didn’t even know, or should I just walk quietly by and figure that the girl can take care of herself? Someone else could walk by and help, but what if one doesn’t? I could get hurt by getting involved, but what if I actually stop this from happening? Should I be a bystander and walk on by, or should I be a defender and do all I can to help out a stranger? I could hardly breathe from all these questions flying around in my brain. I didn’t know what to do.

Bystander or defender? I feel like this is the fundamental question when faced with this situation. Do we stay and help them or flee and help ourselves? We’d like to believe that we would swoop in like Superman and save the day by beating up the bad guy and rescuing the damsel in distress, but would that really happen in reality?

Bystander or defender? That question that can’t be asked by a person, but instead be asked of a person about themselves. It’s not a problem that can be solved waiting for the bus or daydreaming during a lecture, but in the “life or death” moment when the answer truly matters. As I was on the cusp of this revelation, a girl from my hall walked up and began to shout at the boy, which inspired me to also intervene. From then on, we were able to back each other up, which caused the boy to run away and the girl to get away with nothing physically wrong. Walking home, though, I still had this feeling of indecision, like the questions posed earlier still didn’t have an answer for me. They say a time comes in everyone’s life when his or her true character is revealed. I suppose this is just a taste of what is actually to come. I just hope that I make the right choice.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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