I’ve seen and heard a lot of things lately that sometimes make me question people’s actions and decisions. Sometimes it can be major things, like political scandals, violent attacks, and crimes. With that sort of thing, though, most people will stand together and agree “That’s wrong.” Knowing the right thing in such a situation is obvious. Other times, however, “the right thing” can be something smaller and less obvious. Or maybe it IS obvious, but people ignore it because it is small.
Here’s an example of what I mean: when was the last time you were driving someplace and saw a car broken down on the side of the road? Did you stop to see if they needed help? Or did you just drive by because it wasn’t your problem?
I’ve stopped to help strangers before, but I’ll admit that most of the time, I just drive by. Maybe I’m busy, maybe I look and can tell it’s not a “life or death” situation, or maybe I’m just lazy. Though I know there’s another factor that leads to people deciding not to help: the concept of “Social Proof.”
I read about Social Proof in my recent “Persuasion and Social Influence” class at Rowan, in a book titled “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini. The concept is very simple: when people are uncertain about something, we naturally look to others around us to figure out what to do. For example, if the fire alarm goes off, and we see other people reacting as if it’s just a drill, we also stay calm and figure that it’s not an emergency. Such basic reactions are very commonplace. The deeper, less obvious effects, however, can be more complex.
Studies have shown that people are far less likely to help someone in need if they see others nearby who are ALSO not helping. There’s lots of reasons why. If others are around, you’re not personally responsible for what happens. If others aren’t helping, you might think it’s okay to not help since “everyone else isn’t either.” Also, if others don’t react as if the situation is an emergency, you are more likely to think everything is fine.
Now, if the situation was a car accident with someone injured, it would be obvious that help was needed. But what about someone who just has a flat tire? You see others driving by without helping, you think you don’t need to help either, that it’s not an emergency, and that it’s not your personal responsibility. And while the psychological concept of “Social Proof” might explain WHY we act this way, it’s no excuse for not doing the right thing and offering aid to a person in need.
There are plenty of other situations where we should learn to do the right thing. It could be anything from helping out with a charity, to signing a petition for a good cause, to simply holding the door open for someone. It doesn’t always have to be something major. But even when it’s little things, we should all try to do the right thing.
I do see a lot of people who work for causes they believe in. It’s a common sight at Rowan to see various groups raising money for charity or spreading awareness for good causes. There are environmental groups, political rights activists, fraternities and sororities that do charity work, and people that try to spread healthy campus initiatives. But such things shouldn’t be limited to on-campus events, and they shouldn’t be limited to the big things, either. There are a lot of people who need help, and sometimes we need to be reminded about that.
Hopefully you’ll remember this the next time you see someone in need, even if it is a minor need. I believe that most of us would always do the right thing in a serious emergency. But I know sometimes I don’t get involved when I think it’s something minor, and a lot of other people are the same. Maybe sometimes we just need to be reminded that even the little things count, and can make a difference in someone’s day.
So the next time you see someone who could use a little help, think about stopping and doing a good deed. Help someone change a tire. Offer to carry a heavy package. Pick up a piece of garbage from the side of the road. Hold the elevator for someone. Do something good for another human being. It’ll be worth it.
And if you know someone who needs serious help, step up and take some action. It could be encouraging someone to start counseling, it could be an intervention, or it could just be offering to be a support line for someone to call when they need to talk. Anything you can do can have a huge impact.