"You have to figure out how you can step forward and affect your own life. I think that sense of empowerment is actually really positive, specifically for the young generation because they've been bystanders in their own lives for a while." Jennifer Yuh Nelson
The bystander effect is the social phenomenon that people are less likely to intervene when other people are around because they assume someone else will intervene, ergo no one intercedes. Oftentimes it's applied to proximate social settings but I believe it applies to a wider swath of social interaction a la social media, among other things. How many times do we see someone we're connected to post or share something odd, strange, alarming, heartbreaking, or even joyous, and think so many other people are witnessing this. Someone else will reach out, someone who knows them better will do it, or someone who is closer to them will say something. Maybe we feel awkward, embarrassed, or helpless to actually be the one to communicate our concern. Maybe we feel distanced, detached, or disinterested because there's a screen separating us. Maybe we don't quite know enough, feel like it's our place, or even care.
Many things hold us back or at least make us hesitate when we see others in need, looking for connection, craving community. It is better to be wrong, to be overzealous and cautious than to rely on others to participate. What if someone else checks on them - great, then we are one more person added to the mix. What if it's not actually a big deal - cool, then at least that person knows that people are interested in them. The what ifs can continue ad nasuseam, but what remains true is that we lose nothing from taking a few moments to check in with others, and we can never know the impact of doing so. People just want other people to acknowledge, recognize, care about them. We have the power to do that. Do it. Do it often. What happens when we stop scrolling, pause, and interact? Why not send a message, an emoji, a reply? Instead of being mindless, what if we're mindful. Zone in not out. Connection instead of disconnection. Nobody knows we care unless we show them. I never want someone to feel like I don't care about them if I do.
I am a hypocrite. I encourage others to ask for help - I do not ask for help. I have been interrogating why that is and have come to the conclusion that I struggle to trust other people. It's not that I don't find other people trustworthy but I do question their commitment to caring about me. Maybe it's because people don't demonstrate care in the ways that I do, and that makes their efforts - if they are there - seem disingenuous. I can't make others care. That's not my job. I deserve better. Care is a choice; and not one to convince others to make. Ideally someone would notice I need help and just do it without asking. I know it's irrational but that's me. It's like seeing someone carrying lots of things and asking if they need help or if I should get the door ... of course they need help, I can see them visibly struggling. Even if they don't necessarily "need" help - I can still be helpful by just getting the door. I don't need to ask. Maybe I am still unlearning the power dynamic of vulnerability as weakness, and asking for help is an offshoot of that. If I succumb to ask for help then I am back in that power dynamic. What a warped worldview that I am trying to shake.
I find that people often give up too easily with checking in. They fail to ask a direct question, address an avoidance, or ask the necessary full on question to go there. Things get heavy and they back out. That has long communicated to me checking in was a platitude instead of an authentic sense of care. I take time to ensure others are sincere in their interest, prepared to engage, and fully present. More often than not I find one of the three is missing, and that makes me disengage. I'll drop a breadcrumb that I have things to share, move on purposefully, and see if they pickup on it, and circle back. Is it wrong to test people, yes. Should I be more direct, definitively yes. That's not how people work though, people have to feel comfortable, safe, and secure with us before they'll let us in. I know that to be true, so I have to honor that, and I get to respect that about me. Ask twice, push a little, and express that the care is real. It's surprising how that little extra bit of effort let's others know that they can confide in you.
As someone who strives to communicate to others that they are not a burden, I often feel like sharing my heavy stuff makes me a burden. The mental gymnastics I put myself through is truly astonishing. I want to unpack my "stuff" but wonder who is willing to sort through it with me. Is my baggage over the weight limit? Do I have too much stuff for my life journey? Do I really only need a carry-on? Will they handle with care? If they see something, would they say something, or just let it go?
Then again, I am someone who spends much of his time thinking, reflecting, and processing experiences. I sort through my own stuff consistently as a means of maintaining an equilibrium. I believe it is paramount that I take the first try at figuring myself out. I have to sit in my discomfort, pain, and sorrow as much as I relish in the warmth, love, and light. I have to feel all of it, and how it makes me feel. I am striving to better understand me so I can be emotional literate in the language of me. I am not for others to piece together, even though they can be useful; it's up to me to spend the time learning about me, why I am the way I am, and how I respond. If I understand me, then I can better understand everyone else. There has to be some sort of balance through between relying on yourself, and counting on your circle. I believe I/we need both self-inquisition, and the external perspectives of us to navigate our life experiences.
There are small things I do that allow me to show up at/as my best for others. I affirm, and rephrase when people tell me they feel like a bother or a burden. I assure them they are not, that I am glad they chose to confide me, and that I am honored to hear part of their story. When people ask if I'm busy, I tell them that I will gladly make time for them, and then do so. I do my best to make myself accessible, and avail myself to others. I show up, and fully commit to be there, and only there, especially with other people. Everything, and everyone can wait. The people proximate it to me have to matter, and I can prove that to them by gifting my undivided attention.
When people need me I am there. When something is happening, I am someone who takes initiative to do something. More and more I am becoming someone who has overcome hesitations to do what needs to be done. I want to be someone who speaks up when others are silent. I want to be someone who shows up when others walk out. I want to be that breaks through when someone is breaking down. I will take us there, and hopefully be a person that keeps it real. How do I do that? I make observations and speak on them. I noticed this, I'm concerned about you, I care about so ... and asking follow up questions to get to the root of the cause. I am willing to do the work if folks are willing to do it with me. How different would our world be if we all did our own self-work, and allowed others to help us. X