Someone on the Mothering.com website posted about ABC’s hidden camera show “What Would You Do?”. The reality tv/hidden camera sets up situations with actors to see how bystanders would react to incidents of injustice. Some of the experiments come directly from the news. Which begs the question what would YOU do?
I know what I have done in the past. I have actively intervened in a major way about six times in my lifetime. Twice against my step-dad who was fighting with my mom, once when my sister was being screamed at to the point by our mom that she had enough and started hitting her and three was with total strangers.
One time when I was about 15, my step-dad was fighting and pushing my mom around (they were often fighting and dragging my little brother and sister into it – and yea, I intervened when they did that too), and I got in between them and screamed at him to stop. The second time was when they were fighting in the kitchen and he started pointing a large kitchen knife in front of her. So I put out my arms, and yelled at him, “go ahead and cut me” and stared him down. He threw down the knife and left the kitchen.
The incident with my sister was because my mom was berating her (she was 20 at the time) about her then-boyfriend (who is now her husband of 12 years), and my sister just flipped out and started to hit my mom (believe me, this wasn’t the first time my mom screamed at us with manipulation and threats, so while my sisters reaction seems over the top but it really wasn’t – she just had enough abuse). I hit my hand through a glass picture frame to get their attention (fortunately, I didn’t even get cut), and screamed something. My mom then came after me and pushed me against the wall with her hand at my throat. I just laughed at her and told her to go ahead and punch me. I really really so wanted to hate her, and I knew if she hit me, I’d finally have some evidence on the outside that we were being abused. She came to her senses and let go.
Then I came upon an accident when I was about 22 between an 18 wheeler and a car under a viaduct in a really bad neighborhood. I stopped my car, ran across the street to the only place around – a liquor store – to use a pay phone and called 911. The people in the place looked at me like I had 3 heads and they could tell I didn’t belong in their neighborhood (white girl in a minority neighborhood). I stayed long enough to make the call then quickly got out of the store. I came back to my car, and made sure the guy in the truck was okay (he was bleeding a little on the forehead).
Then later, in college, a social studies professor got beat up a bit because he was protesting a religious group meeting and passing out flyers to people leaving the auditorium. I was studying in a nearby room with a friend and heard a commotion. I ran out of the room and there was the guy moaning and his mouth bleeding, a few students looking scared and not knowing what to do, and 3 large men in black tuxedos with their arms folded looking rather PO’d. Naive me knew nothing of what they were, but I saw the man on the floor dazed and incoherent. I don’t know what compelled me, but I went to the man and attended to him until the paramedics came. All I did was basically tell someone to get a jacket for under his head, and held his hand and kept him talking and checking to see where he was hurt. I was just trying to keep him conscious because he was really out of it. I only realized later I should have been scared, but I didn’t know about the men until later. A few people came up to me and asked me if I was a nurse or something, but of course, I wasn’t.
The last thing I did was yell at a woman for beating her child on the legs with a switch at my train stop in a major city. People were watching, not saying anything, but I went up to her and yelled at her for beating her son. She said it was because he wasn’t listening. I told her she needed to stop beating him. If she felt she needed to discipline him, one small spank would have been enough (this was before I had kids and learned about attachment parenting and realized spanking didn’t teach anything useful). She came inches from my face and yelling at me like she was going to do something to me, but I held my ground and yelled at her again. After what I went through with my family, this stranger couldn’t really do much worse. That poor child, he wasn’t doing much wrong. He was just acting his age (he must have been about 4 or 5).
I tend to have instincts about my girls too, and I’ve caught two of my daughters from falling from high places. Once when I realized my middle child was 18 months old, she toddled outside onto the deck that was 13 steps off ground level. I was showing a siding installer something around the corner of the house. Then when we came back, I realized I heard her voice and saw her out of the corner of my eye and knew she came to look for me. I scrambled up the stairs, throwing my whole body forward to reach her and caught her just as she tumbled off the first step.
The second time when my littlest child climbed up the steps of a tall slide. I was going to be lazy and just watch her from afar, but at the last minute decided to get off my butt and spot her. It was a lucky thing too because 2 steps from the top, she lost her footing and down she came into my arms.
I know the mama instinct helps me protect my girls. I don’t know what gets into me to intervene up against strangers. I think it had a little something to do with being conditioned not to accept abuse by my family. I mean, they tried, but I had lots of practice fighting back. I’m always sticking up for injustices. But not only that, it has helped that I have been helped very much by almost strangers, like the parents of my high school boyfriend Sean, who took me in one night when I ran away from home and had no place to go. That wasn’t the amazing part. The amazing part was the fact that it had been a year since I actually dated Sean, yet they still took me in. I still came by to visit his mom to talk to her even after we had to break up because of my mom.
I’ll write about my friend Sean one day soon, but I know I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for his parents. You see, I was planning on killing myself that night with the sleeping pills I bought earlier that day. Had they turned me away, I know things would have turned out very differently for me. I still feel indebted to Sean and his parents. But that was one thing you just can’t pay back, you can only pay it forward. And so that’s what I try to do.
So what about you? Have you had a chance to help someone else in your lifetime or did you just pass on by? How did it make you feel? Maybe you think you can’t make a difference, but I believe every little bit you can do helps.
At the very least, if you can’t physically do anything, make a call to 911. Don’t wait for someone else to make the call. They might be thinking the same thing.