A seemingly innocuous thing happened to me a couple of months ago, but I can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe I’m making a bigger deal about than I should; you tell me.
The Missus and I were at the Mall of America, just walking around, popping in and out of stores. We were headed to one of the elevators, when we slowed down to let a guy on crutches go ahead of us. Dude was probably in his mid-20’s. Decent shape, dressed like a normal guy. The only thing that stuck out was that he apparently had a messed up ankle that required crutches for a bit. These things happen; sometimes you need crutches.
The Mall was, as usual, packed tight. The man on crutches got a few feet in front of us, picked up his pace a bit, and promptly ate shit. Face down, directly onto the polished marble. He hit the ground so hard. It was like when Mike Tyson fell off his Hoverboard, only face-first. The sound echoed through the Food Court like a gunshot.
No, I didn’t burst out laughing. Give me a little more credit than that.
In fact, he fell in front of no less than 50 people, and nobody burst out laughing. More specifically, nobody did anything. No surprised gasps, no concerned yelps, nothing.
Including me. I did absolutely nothing. I mean, I wanted to, but my feet wouldn’t move. My brain was telling them not to.
It was probably only five seconds or so, but it felt like an eternity. The man slowly got up under his own power, got his crutches back underneath him and carried on his way. Fortunately, only his pride was damaged. Just like that, he was gone, and everyone in the vicinity slowly shuffled back about their business.
Not me, though. I was stunned. Not by what I saw, but by how I reacted.
I’ve been lucky enough to not be privy to many situations in the past where people have been hurt (myself included), but when I was, I would always react without thinking. It’s far from heroic behavior; it’s just instinct for most of us. Someone falls down, you help them back up. Boom. That’s what you do. I was hardwired to always help before anything else inhabited my mindset, be it someone merely falling down, or someone in legit danger.
But without even knowing the change had taken place, my first instinct now was to freeze and assess the situation in a skeptical way. The reason I didn’t move and hesitated to help was because my first thought now was to be cautious. More specifically, cynical.
The thought should have been, “That man has fallen. He may be hurt. I will help him up.” Instead, it was “What’s his angle? Is this a prank? Are we on hidden camera? Is this some YouTube bullshit? A Psych student’s social experiment? A crazy man wanting to stab me the second I get within striking range? This isn’t real.“
Now, one could argue that this is a logical, intelligent defense mechanism; one that has kept me alive and unstabbed for the last 34 years. But I certainly didn’t feel intelligent. I felt cowardly about the whole thing. When did this happen? When did I become conditioned to not trust certain scenarios anymore? Why didn’t I help that guy? Am I some kind of sociopath all of a sudden?
Who am I, really, when a bystander is in danger?
Who am I, really, when I’m in danger?
Who am I, really, when someone I love is in danger?
Maybe it was the crowd that had me hesitating. It’s that psychological phenomenon where, the more people are around to help, the less people actually help because everyone thinks someone else will do it. That’s the reason why, when someone needs medical attention, you’re supposed to specifically tell someone to call 911. Otherwise, everyone will assume someone else has, and then nobody will.
This is what I’m telling myself, but it ain’t doing the trick. If it were just me and the guy alone when he fell, I’d like to think I’d be quicker to assist, but I’ve never been one to blame my behavior on Mob Mentality. I thought I was better than that, but shit, maybe I’m not. This happened over New Year’s Eve, and I’m still pissed at myself about it.
So yeah, this has been bothering me. I thought I knew who I was, but a guy tripping in a Food Court has me thinking otherwise.
Talk to me. What do you think? What would you do? Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your week.