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Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"What Would You Do?"

I was having a conversation with my friend about the ABC television series, "What Would You Do?".  They set up an experiment where they will have actors play out a scenario and then record the bystander's reactions. It's amazing at how people react. They will play the scenario usually a few times, switching out the actors so that the ages, races and genders will vary and record the differences in the reactions from bystanders.

Everything from children being bullied, women being verbally harassed and assaulted by "boyfriends", underage public drinking and more have been highlighted on the show. Unfortunately, the majority of bystanders usually walk by and ignore the situation. But it is always refreshing when somebody stands up and speaks out against the wrong they are witnessing or reaches out their hands and voices to help those in seemingly desperate or perilous situations.

After this conversation yesterday I was doing some reading when I came across something that Martin Luther King Jr. once said:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."

On the episode that showed a young teen being verbally assaulted by her boyfriend (all actors) a man stood up and threatened to call police, turning his anger on her boyfriend verbally, voicing that he had no right to treat her that way. Afterwards, when he was interviewed he noted that he couldn't help but think of his daughters at home and how angry he would be if he ever saw them treated that way. When he had been yelling at the young actor that played the verbal assailant he had questioned the young man, asking how he would feel if his daughter was someday treated that way. The young actor retorted that he had no daughter, he didn't care.

Ah...the issue of empathy arises. Empathy and action. The man who had intervened had empathy...he tied in what the girl was going through with his experience of being a father of daughters. He knew that young girl was a daughter of someone, held precious at one time as a baby, consoled when feelings were hurt as a child, and now being abused verbally in public and in need of a defender.

Sometimes it's not easy to step out and speak up for someone who is a victim. Though, that it is becoming less and less excusable. Most people fear for their own safety on such occasions, but with the fact that most people now carry cell phones and have the opportunity to safely walk away from the situation and then call for help anonymously (which many still never do on that show who have cell phones), what really could be the excuse for not doing so? More troubling is the question...why wouldn't they? It's noted that most times when a bystander stands up to an assailant that that's all that is needed for a deterrent, or even if it isn't it oftentimes spurts on other bystanders to get the courage to stand up as well. Just one person standing up can change the whole situation around.

What do these type of scenarios mean for us Christians? Let's go back to the idea of empathy. Sometimes there are people we might never relate to. How can we still feel empathy towards them? How can we still feel empathy for a child, even if we never have had a close connection with one? Or how can we still feel empathy and compassion for a black homeless man addicted to heroine when we might find ourselves as a white upper class citizen who has never had anything beyond an aspirin and has never known being cold beyond our ski trip excursions to the Alps? How can we relate to people when our realities seem world's apart?

I'd like to give a five word answer that settles it for me anyways. Ok...sit back...here it is:

Christ is in us all.
Christ is in the child who you see slapped up against the head at the grocery store. The eyes of Christ are looking back at you as you walk by the man who is holding up a sign to work for food. The eyes of Christ are staring blankly at the cluttered garbage lining the streets,  wrapped in the scantily clad garb of prostitutes.

When we start to see Christ in everyone...when we start to recognize the fact that salvation is not meant for just those who have stuck to the rules and laws of man and have bought the clothes that come with flashy labels but also those who are alcoholics, who have stolen, abused and even murdered others...then we open up our capacity of compassion to encompass all of humanity. And I feel, when that happens, anyone that sees Christ in someone cannot possibly walk away from Christ when he is being abused, when he is being slapped, beaten or verbally accosted. It is our duty to stand up and raise our voices against the condemned, against the abused because without Christ we would all be condemned.

So, I have to ask, if you were a bystander watching something wrong happening, what would you do?

                                                           Heavenly Father,

We thank you for bringing us safely into another day. Thank You for Your great mercy, Your grace which  makes salvation possible. Forgive us for falling short and sinning against you. We pray that You bless us with courage to speak out against wrongs when we witness them, to stretch our hands out to take hold of those who are suffering, even if their differences intimidate us or are hard to understand or relate to. May we see all life as sacred, all life as holding within it the Spirit of Christ and may our compassion and love help be the catalyst for others to recognize Christ within themselves. May the Spirit usher more and more souls to be awakened to Your reality and by that may the whole world resonate with praises lifted high to You.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.



  1. Well said Jessica.
    It is hard for many including myself on some occasions to intervene on something that doe not concern us. This does not say I wouldn't if it was something to the magnitude that I would find it necessary to do so.Many in fact just don't care or have their own problems.
    I relate to the empathy of the father with daughters. And I must say I have spent quite a few times chatting to those worse off and living on the streets. But thats just me.

    Bless to you

  2. Great post. Tough one to answer as well. I would intervene and then depending on the situation it would be better to go for help. Just my honest opinion. In numbers sometimes works

  3. I take it on a case by case method and try to be led by the Spirit. I have found out in the past that the words in the Bible to not to lay hands suddenly on any man have a reason to it. Still, I see the wrong and sometimes do nothing. I forget who said that all it takes for evil to triump is for good men to do nothing....where am I in that...God only knows.

  4. I think you guys bring up a good point...discernment. Every instance is not the same and doesn't always merit the same response. Sometimes perhaps an anoynmous call to authorities is more appropriate than physically or verbally intervening. Other times, maybe authorities would just worsen a situation. Maybe it's some burnt out mother who is struggling financially and needs resources rather than condemnation from society. There was a show that showed an actress, playing a mother, who left her daughters as a punishment alone on a park bench. A bystander offered her motherly advice and resources, rather than just reaching for her phone to call the cops. Sometimes a little compassion and empathy goes a long way.

  5. In my younger days I have stood up for people where I have seen things happening and depending on the situation, if it's children then my first instinct is to protect but more recently I have been the one to phone for help. Mainly because of the safety issue, I have a son and my main priority is to him, therefore keeping myself safe comes as part of that.

    The problem with phoning is that quite often the police are not interested, however that is no excuse not to. Also the cases where you do hear of people standing up often end in their deaths or hospitalisation. It's not surprising that people do not wish to get involved. Great post and certainly food for thought

  6. Great post! Very thought provoking and convicting. I pray I would do what GOD would have me do, but I fear that there may be times when I don't get involved and I should.

  7. At the core level we are all a part of the universal oneness that connects us things. The pain that is brought upon gods creatures is all of our pain to share. I believe that we can all contribute everyday to creating more love and peace in this world. If an occasion should arrive that calls out to us to take action my hope is that we should listen to that voice. I believe it is the voice of god empowering us to be brave and take action to help someone in need.

    Thank you for this post and shedding light on a sensitive subject.

  8. Really makes you think! Great post! I can honestly say that I'm not sure in certain instances I would be able to directly intervene. Being a girl myself, it would be hard to stand up to say a male abusing another female. But I would try to do the least thing I could, which would be to use my cell phone to call for help.

  9. I just came across a quote on facebook that I think applies to this post so I figured i'd share it here, for whoever might be looking through the comments and discovers it! :

    “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” - Elie Wiesel

    For anyone that isn't familiar with Elie Wiesel, he wrote a book, Night and is a Holocaust Survivor.

    ~ blessings

  10. I agree with Ed. I take it on a case by case basis and try to be led by the Spirit, although I’ve failed at times.
    There have been times when I’ve cast my pearls to swine, when I’ve reached out to help others, only to be trampled underfoot.
    And then there have been times when God used me in significant ways in rescue missions.
    As you replied to Ed, “discernment” is the key. What a thought provoking post Jessica. And a most inspiring one.

  11. Excellent post Jessica! Most people look the other way and don't want to get involved. Unfortunately this is not helping the victim and the oppressor will carry on with his destruction.

    I remember when I was 12 years old and a bully at school hit me in the face and broke my glasses. My dad and I went to the house of this girl to speak to the parents. The father freaked out and started to hit the girl in front of us. It was terrible and we were speachless. My dad tried to speak to the man but he didn't want to listen.We left immediately but my Dad phoned the police. It was one of my early lessons in the cruelty of life.

  12. Jessica, quite a challenging post. I might express my displeasure but cannot stand up in public and do it. I am quite shy that way. Though I might be seething in anger, I am a bit reticent to go up and voice my anger. I have tried to but . . . I think even our personalities play a role in this. The more outspoken one is, the more the loudness of the voice. I might quietly call the police but speaking out aloud is a bit difficult for me.

    Joy always,

  13. Debra...great point...about casting one's pearls before swine. I hadn't thought of that illustration, but it definitely applies to this discussion.
    I'm glad you enjoyed the post :)

  14. Wow Nelieta...that must have been a very scary and painful experience. I remember my husband told my daughter, shortly after she was born, "welcome to the cold cruel world"...I got so mad at him! But it's true... :( At least there are lots of good people...hopefully the good overshadows the evil. We have to let our lights shine! :)

  15. Susan...
    You make a great point, I agree...personalities definitely play a role in our responses.
    Thank you for your comment :)