The Bystander Effect is real. It’s actually a thing. A real thing that real people, like you and I, succumb to. And it’s easier and more rampant than you think.
Psychologists (and Wikipedia) describe it this way: “The bystander effect (also called bystander apathy), is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present.”
Basically, to reinterpret the psychological jargon, it’s when something bad happens and nobody does anything. When good people stand frozen by and watch something unfold. It happens because everybody else thinks everybody else will step forward to help. But no one does.
I have always disliked this “thing”. It must be in my genes because my family apparently hates it too. Years ago, when my mom watched a man drop to the floor from a heart attack at work, she mobilized the troops. Nobody moved when the poor guy fell down. They all just stood there in shock. So she yelled at one person to call 911, grabbed another man to help her, and the two of them performed CPR until the paramedics arrived. Saved his life. The man lived. True Story.
My Dad is the same way. We were on the way to a family vacation in Oregon once. Car was fully packed with kids and gear. We were all totally psyched and enroute. But all of a sudden, my Dad pulled over on the freeway, jumped out of the car and was out on the road medically treating victims from a 20-car pile-up. Huh? I had no clue what was going on as an 11-year-old. What’s a pileup?
So it’s a real thing. Granted, I realize my Dad is a doctor, so that modifies the Bystander Effect slightly in his favor. But my Mom was a flight attendant who decided to take an office job so she could be home with her kiddos a bit more. Pretty sure she was glad she didn’t have a job where she was at everybody’s beck and call anymore. And then the guy drops down…
Yah, I admit it. I’m proud of them.
People can boast to be just about anything. But the truth is we really don’t know what we are made of, until something happens, and we either choose to move…or we don’t. Pretty simple. Naturally speaking.
But here’s the thing. There’s a “Spiritual Bystander Effect” as well. And even though you may not have found yourself as a heart-attack or car-accident bystander, you’ve probably succumbed to “Spiritual Bystanding” quite often.
It’s when we see a person noticeably in pain. But we just walk by. “It’s a stranger”, we think. “It would be WAY too awkward to just walk up to them. What would I say?”
It’s when a prayer request gets distributed to our church, and we think, “Well, the pastor prayed already. I’m sure the whole church congregation is praying. How could my prayers change anything?”
Or how about this one: “I’m in a hurry. I’ll pray later (aka “It’s an inconvenient time”). But do you remember to pray later? (I’ve done this one a TON of times.) Reality check.
Yep, it’s a thing. Think about it. How many times do you NOT pray for someone that needs prayer, because you think everyone else is praying? Or because the leader in your “group” prayed and that’s probably enough? What could one more person praying accomplish?
It’s kind of like voting. How many people each election don’t vote because they truly believe their vote won’t change anything?
Or like a soldier. What would happen if a soldier on the front lines thought he wasn’t really making a difference in a war defending our country, and he just walked away? Don’t YOU want him there?
Or the football quarterback in the Superbowl? You’re kind of important, Dude.
Voters. Soldiers. Athletes. Bystanders. Regular People. Each one makes a difference. In the game. In our country. In life. Every one of you in your specific life position has a circle of influence, where you have the potential to make a difference. Each one of you can change the lives and the destinies of those around you.
It’s true that we won’t know the final score of which prayers or conversations truly alter other people’s destinies until we get to Heaven. But we do see answers to prayer every day. Pre-emptive prayers of protection that save a person’s life. Prayers for healing. Prayers for strength. Prayers for change. Prayers for miracles.
God has given us authority in prayer. And we change spiritual dynamics, as well as natural dynamics and realities, as we pray. As we make the choice to no longer be a Spiritual Bystander. To no longer remain on the sidelines and think that everybody else is taking care of what needs to be done. But engaging. In prayer. In conversations. In moving toward other people’s brokenness, rather than away from it.
But the more we default to being Spiritual Bystanders, the less good we do. The less territory we take. The more authority from Jesus that we abdicate.
We are called to be “doers” of the Word. I’m pretty sure that is the antithesis of Spiritual Bystanding.
I decided a long time ago that I wanted to be one of the people that moved when others stood still. To not fall prey to the Bystander Effect—Natural or Spiritual. But it’s a daily decision. I have to work at it. But it does get easier over time…
I dare you to try it. 🙂
Refuse to be just another Spiritual Bystander.
Be different. Be a doer.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).