Discover more from Learning by Proxy with Vivek Srinivasan
Our Bias against Action
The more of us are present, the fewer are willing to initiate action. What does it mean for our cities, our governments, our companies?
Research has shown that the willingness of people to help in an emergency is inversely proportional to the number of people present at the place.
If one person sees another hurt or being hurt they will run to help. If there are 10 all of them will hesitate, expecting someone else to show initiative.
This was starkly illustrated by the death of Kitty Genovese. Kitty was murdered on a street in Kew Garden, New York in 1964 in front of 38 homes. Every single home occupant heard her screams. The attacker stabbed her, and she cried out for help. She actually said, “Oh my god, he has stabbed me! Help me!”. The attacker returned to stab her two more times.
The call to the police went half an hour after she was dead.
From this incident was born a new term, the Bystander Effect.
Our willingness to be moved to action is dependent on both the number of occasions that present themselves where the action is possible and also the number of “others” who could equally undertake the action.
In large cities, we are overwhelmed by the amount of stimulation that we receive and develop ways and means by which we filter out things happening around us. We also develop an “it’s not my problem” syndrome.
Also, when we find an instance where we let the stimulus through we often wonder why nobody else is taking any action and we do not act ourselves.
Consequently, city life is perhaps the most indifferent life a human can lead.
We see this play out in the streets of every large city across the world.
We also see this happen all the time in governments and large organisations. It is not like the people working there have no idea what is happening. They are just focused on avoiding that stimulus and do not want to deal with it till it is their problem.
It is not like large companies cannot be nimble, it is just that each is waiting for the other to act!