Summary: We're not all called to be missionaries. We are all called to help those who are.
Speed the Light: Family helping Family
In October 2006, a new website appeared on the internet. LiveLeak.com was originally formed to allow video footage of politics, war, and other world events and combine them with the power of citizen journalism. Some examples of videos that can be found on the site range from military crackdowns during citizen protests in Ukraine and Syria to security camera footage of robberies, and everything in between.
LiveLeak has done some really good things. They’ve videos involving Fatemeh Moghimi, the executive director of an international shipping company, Soheila Sadegh Zadeh, a deputy of urban planning in Tehran, Ghamartaj Khanbabaei, a university lecturer and pediatric pulmonologist, and Marzieh Yadegari, a shooting instructor and high ranking police officer. What makes these stories special is that all four of these people are women. Thanks to LiveLeak, the “common person” in Iran can finally have their voice heard. Despite their government’s less-than-stellar reputation, people across the world can now easily see the difference between the Iranian government and the Iranian people.
The problem, though, is that this became a repository for videos that, at best, reside in the “gray” area of what is legal. In 2007 one of the most famous -- or, more correctly, infamous -- videos was uploaded: cell phone video of Saddam Hussein’s execution. Later that same year, an investigative journalism show on the BBC aired a show about how young people were recorded getting physically assaulted and knocked unconscious. When representatives from the show queried the "extremely violent videos" that had been posted to LiveLeak's website, co-founder Hayden Hewitt refused to take them down, stating, "Look all this is happening, this is real life, this is going on, we're going to show it.”
LiveLeak doesn’t just show international videos, though. On April 17th, 2008, six girls got in a fight in Clarksville, Indiana. The girls all ranged in age from 12 to 14. At one point, the fight was 5 on 1, with one girl grabbing rocks from the ground and repeatedly beating the victim in the head. We know this because at least three adults stood by and recorded the fight on their cell phones. None of them tried to stop the fight.
On Saint Patrick’s Day 2013, two people got in a fight in a Boston subway. After a heated argument, a woman gets up and starts brutally punching a man in the face. The other riders on the subway did nothing -- they just sat in their seats and watched. Many of them also recorded the fight on their cell phones and posted them online.
There are countless more examples of this sort of thing happening -- people are getting hurt, sometimes even killed -- and everyone around them simply watches and does nothing. Why? Is it because we like to watch? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people laughing about a fight they saw, or sharing a video of a fight online. A lot of times they get excited, and start “picking sides” -- even though they don’t know anything about what is happening or why.
This is actually a recognized psychological phenomenon, called the “Bystander Effect”. In short, people are less likely to help if someone is getting hurt if there is a large number of people around them. According to Psychology Today, this is due to something called pluralistic ignorance -- we all tend to look to others for clues to define what is happening. An example of this is if we drive past a car accident, and assume that someone else will call 911.
What’s interesting though, is that if someone is by themselves they’re actually more likely to help; there is no one else around to take responsibility. The Bystander Effect is a trend that’s gotten so bad that people who record a violent crime on their phone without calling 911 or trying to help the victim are getting in trouble themselves. Students are getting suspended; adults are going to jail.
Many people have argued that this is something that has resulted from our increased use of the internet, and sites like LiveLeak. The internet allows for increased anonymity, they argue, meaning fewer and fewer people feel like they are responsible for those around them. In fact, psychologists have noticed that the Bystander Effect does not seem to apply if the victim and the witness are family. The internet is anonymous, but the Bystander Effect isn’t anything new. This has been going on for thousands of years -- not recording video on a cell phone, obviously -- but standing by, doing nothing but mock, while other people get hurt. Getting punished for doing this isn’t new either. Turn with me to the book of Obadiah.
Obadiah is one of the shortest books in the entire Bible -- only one chapter and 21 verses! But in it, Obadiah brings a word from the Lord against the nation of Edom, condemning them for just standing around and doing nothing while Israel gets conquered again and again.