neighbors

Innocence of the Bystander

Witnesses to tragedies, crimes, and unethical behavior are never innocent. They are changed by what they see even if they avert their eyes, minds, and consciences. Seeing and hearing bad things alters you, especially if you don't do something to stop, mitigate or report the event or behavior. Each time we "allow" something to pass as acceptable when we are offended, makes us a little more tolerant of such things. Over time a little callous can start to build up on our heart and our moral compass and we let more things pass without intervention. Initially we ask ourselves, "Should I have done something?"  or "What else could I have done?" Later, we can rationalize, "Maybe its me." "I don't want to be the only one who complains." Innocent bystander


Psychologists have tried to explain this phenomena:

1. The diffusion of responsibility: a bystander assumes that someone else has or will take action.
2. Pluralistic Ignorance: an individual looks around the group and because no one is doing anything to help, they assume that no one else perceives there to be an issue

In other words, "someone ELSE will or should do something."

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."  Mother Teresa

The Penn State allegations remind us all about our duties as a bystander. No one has been found guilty but heads are rolling. People allegedly saw horrific things and nothing was done. Children may have been seriously harmed. (the average pedophile molests 100-200 children, so the 8 victims may be the tip of the iceberg) An entire community will suffer and a university will be tarnished for years because of the inaction of a few. All in the name of football. Schoolroom teachers and medical personnel are obligated to report abuse if the suspect it. Military academies and other educational institutions uphold a code of ethics where if you witness cheating, you are a cheater--unless you come forward. We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. And not coming forward can be grounds for dismissal. But coaches, executives, priests, and others can view themselves as above the law.

Selfishness and self preservation prevent us from taking chances, from making changes, and from ruffling feathers/rocking the boat. When we place ourselves above the welfare of others, that's when the conflict occurs. It is a survival instinct. However, when that instinct interferes with the rationalization of crimes, especially crimes that physically harm others--children--all innocence is lost!

What would it take for you to step in and get involved? What level of harm, potential harm, suspected harm will make you act?

Tattle tales, snitches, stool pigeons have always been vilified. Upholding the honor amongst thieves seems to be a powerful moral prophylactic. But this is not about just whistle blowing, this about how we act upon our human instinct to assist an other.

As Americans we think that we are the most generous people on earth. We are quick to judge other cultures, China most recently, who appear less sensitive or even do things we find violating our sense of decency. Regrettably, we Americans do not have a corner on the market of "Thy Neighbor's Keeper." While we invented Neighborhood Watch, the Welcome Wagon and even foundation philanthropy, Penn State is an example that we are not always responsive or respectful of the needs of others.

I love these Liberty Mutual ads. The idea that we should help strangers. That helping others is contagious and sets off a chain reaction of good deeds. One thing is certain, when you see good being done it creates a model of behavior. Everyone wants to help others. Seeing is believing. That is the power of role modeling and mentoring.

After the children who may have been injured, the assasination of the moral example and leadership of Penn State coaches and executives may be the second biggest victim on the Happy Valley campus. When leaders and mentors fall from grace, who or what fills that void? Communities of all sizes and shapes thrive when they have mentors and role models. In Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point, he discusses the studies that have shown that a community stabilizes when it has 5% of its population as role models. Just 5%. The point is, you don't need nor will you ever have everyone as role models. But without them the community de-stabilizes and deteriorates. What happens when some of our top role models fall from grace? Will this void increase or decrease people's desire to help one another and get involved to right wrongs?  

Everyday we are bystanders to the good, the bad, and the ugly. Our innocence will be determined by what we do and how we role model the treatment of others by standing up for what is right and just.

Thanks for reading. John


Know and Love Thy Neighbors

Neighbor -- literally translates to nearby dweller. Someone "situated" near us.

In all parts of your life you have neighbors. People who live, work, exist near you. You may share a common fence, a cubicle wall, a pew, adjacent parking spaces, offices or floors. You probably have many dozens if not hundreds of "neighbors". Neighbors you don't know and perhaps will never know. Some of us will search the Internet, trawl the club scene, attend mixers, travel great distances to meet people and yet,we won't meet the people who literally live next door! Go figure! I have learned the hard way that your neighbors have to be part of your due diligence when you buy or rent a house, condo or apartment. That neighbors, especially the ones you share property lines or walls/ceilings/floors with can increase or decrease your enjoyment and your property value. No one told me this. Maybe it sounds obvious, but I did not know I should meet all of my potential neighbors before buying/renting my home. I was young and naive when I rented and bought my first couple of houses. Focused on getting a good deal and THEN met the neighbors. Neighbors I would live next to and with for many years! Never fails that you have a few surprises and I have been pretty lucky. In buying property or renting an office I meet the neighbors FIRST! These are people that will watch your back. They are people who can be helpful and you can help. That's the definition of neighbors.Neighbors

While we can debate the state of community in increasingly technological world, we all know that all relationships can be enhanced with regular face to face interactions. So why is it we avoid our neighbors. A very recent study showed that only 25% of people know their neighbors names (meaning 75% don't) and one out of 12 have never met any of their neighbors! So if you are following along 3 out of 4 of us don't know our neighbors names and 11% of those people never met any of them. So we go through life acknowledging people in a friendly manner, my friend says "phony nice", but avoiding any substantive conversation (including sharing the very personal information such as our names!) Some of you are feeling quite smug because you are part of the top quartile of people who know your neighbors names. Congrats! But when is the last time you shared a meal or got to know them beyond the morning salutations? Knowing their names is so basic but while that is a fine start you have to get to know them and their families.

Every person you meet will open up a world of difference and commonality. Every connection you make help you become a better person. It never surprises me when I meet people and discover a shared life experience and the world shrinks, especially when they are next door.

A few quick neighbor stories:

1. Hey That's My Priest!--We invited our new next door neighbors over for a meal and to meet our good friend Father Jim. And our neighbor recognized Father Jim, because Jim assisted with their wedding in Hawaii 30 years ago. Long story short,Father Jim presided over OUR wedding a couple years later in northern California! Say it together, SMALL WORLD!

2. Keep your Enemies Close--My wife Sarah met a neighbor at our block party last year. Sarah asked what this elderly gentleman did and he said he used to operate the cable tv fanchise in town but his dreams to grow his business were squashed by a company called Falcon (my employer 30 years ago). He expressed his dislike for the CEO (my boss). And then he recalled, "...there was this "Asian kid" who was always with him too." Sarah quickly and astutely pointed at me at another table and said, "think that Asian kid is my husband John." the man's jaw drops open as Sarah summons me to reconnect with my long lost arch rival, who has lived down the street for 45 years! And we have reminisced a few times since.

3. An Office Transplant--Just moved into new offices this month. I got into the elevator and noticed the woman next to me pushed the same floor button as I did. I knew that there was only one other occupant on our floor (I had checked them out before we moved). So I stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm John, I guess we are neighbors." She runs the training and research for the largest organ transplant operation in the US--One Legacy. This has led to multiple meetings, introductions and encounters in just 3 weeks. I know that she will become a friend as well as a neighbor!
 
There is no excuse for not knowing your neighbors and I mean more than their names! I won't detail all of the selfish reasons you should do this for safety and support. But who watches your place when you are not there? Having the people around you know who you are is crucial in times of crises and need.
 
A few tips on meeting neighbors:
1. If you have been living next door to people for a long and don't know them, find an excuse to bring over some food and introduce yourself. Invite them over for an impromptu bbq. Or if you are having a bigger event invite the neighbors. Food is the greatest connector!
2. Welcome any new neighbors with some cookies and introduce yourselves.
3. Get involved in the home owner association, the local book club, neighborhood watch--excellent way to engage and to meet people.
4. Get to know the people around you everyday at the office, in the elevators, where you park, and certainly at your kids' schools, at church, and where you play.
5. Stick out your hand, smile and introduce yourself! Don't settle for the impersonal robotic "hi, how are you?" unless you follow-up with an intro and a conversation.
Your network has to begin with proximity.
What puts the goodness into your hood----neighbors! Meet and get to know the people who "dwell" near you.
Thanks for reading and being more neighborly. John