Why bystand, when you should standby?

Imagine you’re lying on the floor helplessly as a man repeatedly punches and kicks you. Your attempt to protect yourself by curling into a fetus-like position is still not enough to stop the man.

Even worse, your helplessness is still not enough to convince people to help.

They instead watch through their phones and film you, as if you’re part of some sadistic circus act, while your body forcefully adapts to a painfully rigid routine of punches and kicks. 

This is a real incident, which only happened last week (this article is written on May 31st), and when I first read it, the first thought that came to mind was: Why can’t this guy who filmed this, or the two bystanders standing nearby do something?

I say this easily, as I watch clips of the incident in the comfort of my room, but I have to admit this: I am exactly like them too.

A few years back, I was on a train heading out to meet some friends. The seat next to where I was standing was a reserved seat, which was meant for the elderly, those who are pregnant, and those with physical disabilities. A man was sitting on that seat with his young child on his lap, while his wife was sitting beside him.

An elderly man, who appeared out of nowhere, suddenly chided them for taking up the seat, and calling them inconsiderate, the ‘nicer’ insult among a couple of nasty words, and left the train. All I did was shake my head in disgust at the elderly man’s inappropriate behaviour.

Others did the same, and everyone just moved on with their day, without considering how the family must have felt. 

From time to time, I think about that day a lot.

I wished I had the courage to stand up to the elderly man, but I was just too scared.

I hate standing in trains, but I would much rather stick it out despite the long distances than be forced to stand up because I was once scolded for sitting down and not giving up my seat to others. I remembered no one defending me when I was humiliated in front of others that day as a wee 13 year old, and I hated every single second of it.

Yet I allowed it to happen to that couple. 

While I do pride myself a little for having a lot more courage than I used to, a tiny part of me still holds this fear that I still wouldn’t know how to handle a situation like that.

However, a good reminder for myself, maybe even for you, is that your fear is a selfish privilege.

The victim of the assault was lucky enough that he could still walk off in his injuries, but for some, it could be too late. So let’s instead be on STANDBY. We literally cannot afford to pay the high price of fear anymore. 

Written by Qistina Binte Bumidin

Header art by Louise Reimer

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