Why do we respond so poorly when we witness crime/injustice/abuse/etc?


Isn’t that video absolutely heartbreaking?

As Americans we are so attached to comfort and safety that we often ignore injustice because it would be easier to turn the other way than to step out of our comfort zone and risk our safety for the sake of others.  

This morning I woke up an realized we had no coffee.  This was an urgent issue that I needed to resolve so I went to the store and bought a pound of Peet’s Ethiopian blend.  Mmmmm so good.

On my way out of the parking lot I noticed something that caught my attention on the other side of the road.  I saw a man and woman walking down the street.  Normally a man and woman walking down the street isn’t that big of a deal, but this was different.  He was holding the back of her head, his hands clenching her hair, and he was violently shaking her head back and forth. As I watched for a moment I saw numerous cars drive by, and people look at them without seeming to care about the well being of the woman.  I began to feel angry inside, I couldn’t believe people were ignoring this.  It seemed clear that this man was going to hurt the woman.  Without thinking I drove up to the couple and rolled down my window.

“Hey that’s not cool man, is she alright?”  I naively asked, not knowing what I was getting myself into…

“What the F*** you talking bout n****?!!” The man yelled back, beginning a long series of threats as he glared at me with a thugged out sneer.

“I’m fine, don’t worry about me!”  The woman said to me in an unconvincing tone as I tried to calm the man down by suggesting that I was just making sure she was alright.

Before I could affectively address the situation, the man began to approach my car and continued to hurl expletives my direction.

I quickly realized that I was of no further help to the situation and that I may have actually been making things worse…so I hit the gas and drove away.

As I drove home, I recapped the series of events and thought about what had just happened.   I was filled with anger, frustration, and confusion because I didn’t know what to do.  I was also reminded of how messed up our world is.

If had had pushed the man any further, it would have gotten violent, and I’m sure he would have easily taken me in a physical altercation.   He may have even been armed.  This choice of action would probably not have changed the predicament for the woman.  She would still be with the man, the only difference is that he would now be angry.

If I hadn’t done something I would have been filled with regret that I witnessed the abuse of a woman and didn’t do anything.

As I began to realize where I was wrong and where I was right in my actions I began to see that people typically handle these situations in two ways.

1) We hide.   They avoid the altercation altogether as it is much easier to pretend that suffering, exploitation, and injustice don’t exist.  I think most of us fall under this category.  Ignorance is bliss.  The problem with this is that we’re not being honest.  We are blatantly lying to ourselves because we absolutely have a responsibility to one another.  When we avoid the hardship of others, and the possibility of being able to help because it would be inconvenient for us, I believe we are morally and ethically in the wrong.  It reminds me of this story.

2) We jump the gun.  This is what I did this morning.  Without calculating or thinking I simply attempted to intervene.  While my motives may have been good, I don’t think I accomplished much – besides submitting to my ego.  There is something in us that gets angry when we see injustice, and I believe this is good and healthy.  The problem arrises when we end up using that anger in reckless ways that end up being more about our pride than about helping the people in need.  Before doing something, and I am convinced we must do something, we need to count the cost.  It’s kind of like this teaching.

What I learned this morning is that it was right for me to feel angry.  It was also right for me to do something.  My mistake was that I jumped the gun.  I may not have helped the situation, and I may have placed myself in a dangerous place.

If I could have a mulligan with how I reacted this morning I would have done things differently.  What I needed to do, and what we need to do when we see injustice is to get angry, calculate the most effective action, and without hesitation act.  

In hindsight I should have used my cell phone to call the local police who not only have the authority to respond, but can also follow up in ways that I cannot with these individuals.

I believe this falls in line with the great story Jesus taught, that I continue to wrestle with called the Good Samaritan:

Luke 10:25-37

New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

3 thoughts on “Why do we respond so poorly when we witness crime/injustice/abuse/etc?

  1. I’m sorry this happened to you, man! But I’m glad you got such great wisdom out of it. I think I get scared sometimes that I’ll just feel like a tattler if I call the police instead of doing something myself (and so if I “can’t” do it myself I don’t do anything), but recently I’ve been having more courage to call upon those whose purpose is to handle situations exactly like these. That is why they are there after all. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I was a victim of domestic violence.NEVER be afraid to call the appropriate authorities. If it’s a false alarm..oh well…but most likely, it’s not. And you’re NOT a tattler. Almost always, the ‘predator’ has no idea who called anyways. So sorry Chris that you witnessed this. So glad you wrote this ‘awareness’ perception you got from your experience. God bless!!!

  3. Also Chris…SO glad you rolled down your window and confronted this idiot. Hopefully it diffused the situation. You did the absolutely right thing by driving away. No need for you to put yourself in danger. 🙂

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