“People will never know how far a little kindness can go. You just may start a chain reaction.” ~Rachel Joy Scott
After stepping onto a train with no seats available, I found myself standing in the section.
Two passengers left their seats a few stops later and I was able to take my place. I was happy to observe people. Chapter 4 was written by the woman sitting in front of you. How to Jump For YOur LiFe. Next to her, the girl alternated between Tinder apps and school reports. A little dog ruffedI am the one with the black duffel bag, which is on the lady across the aisle.
One minute I was staring down at my iPhone screen—earphones in, listening to a podcast. One minute I looked up and saw a bunch of middle-aged men shouting at them. He was in the wheelchair section, next to his bike. I didn’t see what he’d done to provoke them.
They grew more louder. As the man rose, my ears rang, I lowered my headphones and watched his chest expand. Barely an inch of space separated his face from the younger man’s. He stepped closer, and punched his opponent squarely in the eye. He retorted.
The spat turned into an altercation and each hit was delivered with greater force. Passengers, including myself, watched the spectacle in amazement. The headlines broadcasting the murderous act of Nia Wilson (Bay Area Rapid Transit), flashed through me and made me wonder if anyone would get a weapon.
It was hard to believe how much longer they were willing to fight, but I also wondered what the end result would be. Is there something we, as witnesses, could or should do? And if so what?)—or were we just captive audiences to the violent scene occurring in front of us?
A passenger in a dark-haired woman in her early thirties was visibly upset and had tears in her eyes. “Stop. STOP!” she yelled, her voice at once insistent and pleading.
The train arrived at its next station twenty seconds later, and the boy with his friends and group ran away. The older man with the bike stayed behind—left side of his face twitching, injured eye watering heavily (he seemed unable to keep it open).
Though I’d witnessed violence like this on television, this was the first time I’d been so close to actual, real-life physical aggression. That the fight had occurred between real people rather than actors— powered by raw anger and heightened emotions—and that it hadn’t been manufactured for audiences to consume from behind a screen both jarred and disturbed me.
The initial reaction from the group was no different to if we had all only seen a single scene. Orange is The New Black together.
BART rider put the earphones in. Some others appeared less affected but still a distance from the spectacle. Most people remained comfortably seated.
Everyone except for one woman—the one who had been noticeably shaken by the altercation. He cried out and begged the men to stop.
The woman marched to the intercom, reporting the incident to the station agent. She asked him to send someone to help the man. The woman sat down with the victim and allowed him to use her cellphone to give his details to police.
When he left, I felt compelled immediately to move from my seat. The woman’s actions had emboldened me to push past my apprehensions. When I was up, the woman offered me water to clean his eyes.
I then watched as others followed my example.
A woman gave him some eye-drops. One woman pulled out towels containing disinfectant from her purse and another one made them. Another offered Ibuprofen.
The prosocial Domino effect was something I saw and found it soothing. And the precipitator of it—that woman in her thirties with the dark curly hair—stayed in my mind for a long time after.
Since then, I’ve reflected a lot on the initial collective response. I don’t think it’s specific to our time; our desensitization in the presence of large groups of strangers is nothing new, as much as we might like to blame it on the disconnection from one another that technology has engendered.
I thought of the bystander phenomenon. “a social psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present” (Wikipedia). According to this theory, more people are less likely to step in to assist in any given situation.
Kitty Genovese suffered a brutal stabbing and sexual assault in Queens New York. Genovese died after returning from work at 3 AM on foot. The New York Times reports that 38 people witnessed the stabbings, but didn’t try to intervene. The police were not called until Genovese was dead and the attacker had fled.
It’s disconcerting to read what the worst-case scenario of bystander effect can lead to, but at the same time I think we can glean a hopeful message from it. This can serve as evidence that we all may be able to demonstrate responsible and prosocial behaviour for each other.
I think a lot of times people shut down and check out when they don’t see a way to be useful or help the situation. To me, it’s comforting to know that all it takes is one person to get the helping momentum going, though.
A leader can help us get out of the paralysis. Perhaps they will inspire others by their example.—The one who takes initiative and encourages others to do the same.
What would the world look like if all of us did that?
Eleni, a queer bilingual writer was born in San Francisco. Since elementary school, Eleni has been writing. She used to hand out magazines and stories to her classmates. Her writing has appeared in The Mighty Thought Catalogue. Elephant Journal. Uncomfortable Revolution. You can follow her on IG eleni_steph_writer and read stories from her time as a rideshare driver at lyfttales.com.
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Tiny Buddha published the post One person is all it takes to start a chain reaction of kindness and caring.