Enraged did not begin to describe my feelings at the ongoing news story of fifteen-year-old California girl who was gang raped for 2 ½ hours during a homecoming dance. Six men have been arrested thus far, and there were more involved. Disturbing? Brutal? Depraved? You bet.
What’s equally appalling is that some two dozen people looked on while this girl was violated—and did nothing. No one called 911. No one fought off her attackers. Nothing. A mob mentality came over them. Some taunted the girl, safe in their anonymity within the crowd. Others may have hoped someone else would help her. Someone called the police after hearing the incident being discussed. But no one tried to rescue her.
After reading this story on CNN.com, I sat back in my chair. “God,” I prayed, “if I ever see someone being hurt like this, make sure I have my cell phone to the police. Then give me the guts to beat the crap out of them.”
Okay, I can hear some of you saying, “Laura, that’s a good way to get yourself hurt.” Duh. A 110 pound female stands no chance of overpowering even one man intent on evil. Testosterone has its advantages. I’d get raped, beaten up, maybe killed. But I also know that the moment I decided to let fear and self-preservation rule my actions, I would become a person I couldn’t respect. I couldn’t bear to think I could have done something and chose to do nothing. I’d do something.
Or would I?
Our church small group has been watching a video series by Andy Stanley. This week, he spoke on how we can’t always see when we’re making a lousy decision; we need other people to confront us. I need friends to jump in and smack me up side the head (in a loving way, of course) when I’m drowning in a sea of bad decisions and don’t even realize it. But it’s easy—safer—natural to keep quiet. (Gossiping about it afterward comes naturally to us, too.)
To use Andy’s example: Guy comes into the office, huge grin plastered across his face, and announces that he’s met the One. He’s going to ask her out, marry her, whatever; I think it’s not a wise idea. Maybe they’ve known each other for five nanoseconds or aren’t suited for one another. I think, “Man, how can you be so stupid? That’s an insane decision.”
I don’t want to burst his bubble. So I wait until he’s left my cubicle and walk over to the next office. “Hey, have you heard what so-and-so’s going to do? Man, how can he be so stupid?”
What’s going to happen? Mr. Stupid is probably going to get hurt. (And I’ll offer to pray for him afterward. Isn’t that what a good Christian does?) I avoided speaking the truth in love. I avoided getting into the nitty-gritty of his life. Too messy: he might’ve gotten mad or brushed away my concerns or ended our friendship entirely. Painful. I’d prefer someone else to do the dirty work.
Now, I’m not saying that watching someone make a mistake is the same thing as watching a young girl get raped. It’s not. But I see a connection here: the natural human tendency to avoid delving into nasty or potentially nasty situations or even just fearful ones. It’s the tendency that prevents me from reaching beyond my comfort zone to someone who needs help:
- The man sitting on the church pew, pretending to read the bulletin and glancing around, as if to say, “Is anyone going to talk to me?”
- Or the woman getting involved with yet another guy who will use her.
- Or the bipolar guy flushing his meds down the toilet because he prefers mania over sanity.
I’ve seen all three examples recently and only spoken up once. I wanted somebody else to greet the man on the pew, keep the woman from the no-good potential boyfriend, confront the man throwing away his lithium.
These may not be as horrifying as a teenager being raped. Still, these are situations that happen around me daily. It’s relatively easy to say, “I’d try to kick the butt of a rapist. I’d do something.” It’s harder to pull aside my friend and say, “Hey, I think you’re making a mistake.” I’d prefer someone else do this. I’d prefer my role as an onlooker.
So can I honestly say I would intervene?
One correction: CNN.com has just reported that there may have been only a dozen bystanders watching. Only a dozen . . . and not a one with a conscience or sense of justice or mercy.