Saturday, January 17, 2009

Give & Take

My husband snores. LOUD. I frequently find my sleep interrupted by his nocturnal chain saw sounds. Sometimes I poke him to turn over and try to get myself back to sleep. Sometimes I go sleep in the other room. Sometimes I give up and just get up. Today was the latter. I got out of bed a little after 5 AM on a day when I had intended to sleep in.

As is often my practice in the wee hours of the night/early morning I went to the computer to check in with people I care about.

I began reading the discussion going on over at Laura Young's No Safe Distance. There are some very rich comments there on the topic of why people give or don't give - whether it be to particular individuals in need or big social causes.

There's some good stuff there.

When I was teaching Sociology one of the topics I lectured on was the Bystander Effect, also referred to as Pluralistic Ignorance or Diffusion of Responsibility. I talked about the social factors involved in persons choosing to look away and NOT act in the face of extreme need. The classic example of this is the murder of Kitty Genvese

For those not familiar with the case:

"At 3:15 A.M., on the night of March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese was returning home from her job as manager of Ev's 11th Hour, a bar in the Hollis section of Queens. Her apartment was in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, a cheerful place with private homes, apartment houses, and neighborhood stores. Like many in the area, Genovese parked her car in a lot adjacent to the Long Island Railroad Station. Although the railroad frowned on the practice, this had been her routine since arriving from Connecticut a year earlier.

Genovese locked her car and began the 100-foot walk to her apartment building, little realizing that she had been spotted leaving the bar and followed. Soon, though, she noticed a man at the far end of the parking lot, she changed direction, heading toward a call box for the 102d police precinct. But she got only as far as a street light when the man grabbed her. "Oh my God, he stabbed me! Please help me! Please help me!" Genovese screamed. Lights went on in a nearby 10-story apartment house and somebody yelled "Let that girl alone!" The assailant walked to a car and drove off. Genovese struggled to her feet. The apartment building's lights went out.

Then the assailant came back and stabbed Genovese again. "I'm dying" Genovese shrieked. "I'm dying!" Again, lights went on. Again, the assailant went to his car and drove away. Again, Genovese struggled to her feet.

Again, the assailant returned. By then, Genovese had crawled to the back of her apartment building. (Because the building has retail stores on the first floor, the entrance to the apartments were in the rear.) The assailant saw Genovese on the floor, at the foot of the stairs. He stabbed her a third time. And Kitty Genovese died. Finally, at 3:50 A.M., the police received a phone call from a neighbor of Genovese's . In two minutes they were on the scene."
(Donway,Roger. The Atlas Society.

There has been A LOT written about this...why would all those people witness such a horrible attack and DO NOTHING?? Particularly in a case like this when it would be EASY for any one of these individuals to call the police with virtually no danger of retribution from the assailant. But they did not. WHY?

Part of it was the assumption that someone else would. "On the sixth floor of 82-40 Austin Street, Marjorie and Samuel Koshkin witnessed the attack from their window. "I saw a man hurry to a car under my window," he said later. "He left and came back five minutes later and was looking around the area." Mr. Koshkin wanted to call the police, but Mrs. Koshkin thought otherwise. "I didn't let him," she later said to the press. "I told him there must have been 30 calls already."

I live out in the middle of hundreds of acres of wheat farm. I do not have bad guys stabbing young waitresses under my window. But I DO live in a world where there are a multitude of individuals and causes with immediate pressing needs. Some of those needs are of life and death nature. And I choose every day how I will or will not respond to those needs.

With all the different issues that abound (save the environment, help hungry people, assist the defense of those who have suffered injustice, stop torture, protect this or that species, or give my brother's poor neighbor a new pair of shoes...) how will I decide to act or not act?

What makes a given cause or individual's need compelling enough for me to pull out my checkbook or to show up on their doorstep and roll up my sleeves when they need help?

Yesterday a man and his wife moved in to our town from another state. Being LDS, the man called someone in leadership in my church and stated that they needed help unloading their U-haul truck. Within an hour 9 men who were total strangers to this man were at the address given and in 45 minutes they had moved the couple in to their new home. I've seen similar events like this play out dozens of times, it's really quite typical for my congregation. Yet acts of service like that still astonish me.

But would those same men have been so willing to help a total stranger who was NOT of the same faith? I, like many others, am generally most motivated to help someone I feel CONNECTED to in some way - or in the case of someone I have no tie to, it is usually triggered by my connection to the person asking for the help.

The comments on Laura's Post bring up all sorts of related issues, such as...

the role of Tax Write Off in our choices of who/what to donate dollars to

the sense of invasion of our personal space when a street person approaches asking for money,

how we feel about those who choose not to give to causes WE feel are urgent and important

Empty Promises - the words people say "If there is anything I can do..." that turn to dust when a specific request is put forth

There's a lot to digest there.

Is there such a thing as altruism? Does the REASON someone helps or chooses not to help matter?

I currently direct a non-profit organization that provides re-entry services to people who were formerly incarcerated. It takes money to run this organization. We would have to shut our doors if people were not willing to give money, time, and other resources. So I am often in the position of asking for help.

So it is with more than just passing curiosity I ask the question what motivates people to contribute or not contribute? And in the matter of living within my own skin, every day I have to ask myself Who Is My Neighbor? What will I do?

No comments:

Enrich Your Word Power!

Word of the Day
Quote of the Day

This Day in History