Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I was deeply upset by the injury and death of Xiao Yueyue, a two-year-old in Guangzhou, China. She was hit by a truck, which drove away, and lay in the street bleeding for seven minutes. Nineteen people walked by her without stopping for help until a street sweeper moved her out of the road and alerted her panicked mother.
I was stunned and horrified that anyone could walk right by a bleeding toddler lying in the road. A tiny child, in pain, alone and still in danger, and no one helps her. How does this happen? I understood the callousness that develops toward adults, but to a dying child? It leaves me speechless and teary.
My attempt to understand how this happens included reading about Chinese law, Chinese culture, and the bystander effect. There’s not much I can do about other people, but I can try to prevent myself from becoming the kind of person who walks past a bleeding toddler.
I finally made a Twitter plea for help on how to avoid becoming a bystander, and it led to a wise response from a friend of mine. She pointed out that we walk past other people’s pain every day as expats and as people living in a brutal world. There is more human suffering out there than acute bodily trauma and we make a daily decision to ignore it.
I am already the kind of person who can ignore a toddler in pain, as long as she’s not in my line of sight.
We’re all bystanders. The bystander effect is the story of our age, from climate change to famine in the Horn of Africa. We let terrible things happen because everyone else lets them happen too, and because we feel helpless to stop them. I don’t like it. I don’t know how to stop it. I don’t know what to do.