Second guessing the behavior of others without benefit of any insight or personal experience is a national (and perhaps international) pastime. There is even a sport metaphor for such behavior, something to do with an armchair and quarterbacks. Part of our fascination with celebrity is the sheer enjoyment we derive from critiquing their decisions (which we learn from finely tuned propaganda.) We quickly come to conclusions about what we would do in the same situation. We make these declarations with limited data and zero experience. After all, no one has ever been in anyone else’s situation. Not really. We all bring our own baggage and outlook into each experience. Yet why let that fact get in the way of good water cooler chat!
The other day a man was killed in the subway. This happens from time to time. It is always horrific and always sends a temporary chill down the spine of commuters. This latest tragedy doesn’t appear to be completely random which is perversely comforting. The victim is no less dead and his friends and family no less shattered because it was not random. Witnesses report that the suspect was talking loudly to himself. There is video footage of the victim in close proximity to and facing the suspect as the suspect screamed directives. The footage could be deceiving and could mean other things, but it certainly looks as if the two had engaged in some back and forth. They had connected in some manner and it ended very tragically.
Attention is now being paid to the fact that there were many people on that subway platform who did not engage. After the victim was pushed onto the track he tried to get back up to the platform. No one helped. This was not entirely a flashback to the murder of Kitty Genovese (when 38 people admitted to hearing her cries for help and chose to not come to her aid) as at least one person did more than stand by. A professional photographer used his camera’s flash to alert the oncoming train (49 times.) He is now being criticized for capturing the image of the victim rather than pulling the man to safety. (The conductor did see the flash and did slow down.) The photographer, with his own life experience and orientation, did what he thought best. It is not clear how close he was to the victim. It’s easier to question his behavior because we have tangible proof of what he did. But what of everyone else on that platform who did nothing but scream? Could everyone had been far enough away from the victim that they assumed someone else would come to the rescue? Perhaps, subway platforms are long. Was the assailant still very close to the victim and people feared for their own safety? That could be the case. We may never know exactly why the victim was not saved.
What we can be certain of is that violent behavior is scary. We are biologically wired to be frightened by frightening things. But we’ve been socialized to rise above that fear to help those in need. If we choose to second-guess those individuals on the subway platform let’s also internalize that criticism. Let’s use the horrific event to remind ourselves that keeping our head down and ignoring the plight of others is only a short-term survival strategy. Sure we might get through life completely unscathed but what kind of life would it have been and what kind of world would we have?