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Are Canberrans too uncaring?

By Alexandra Craig 21 April 2015 33

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If a stranger in the street needed help, would you help them? I’m sure close to 100 per cent of people would say yes. But so often when these instances occur, the help isn’t willing.

I crashed my car recently (and feel really bad about the two-hour traffic jam on Kings Avenue!). Three cars were involved and mine copped the worst damage. The front of the car was smashed in and the airbags deployed, smacking me in the face (fortunately my nose was not broken and all my teeth remain intact) and filling my car up with a dusty substance that could easily be mistaken for smoke. I was in total shock and sat there dizzy and unable to move.

I turned my head to the side and saw two pedestrians peering through the window at me. They didn’t ask if I was okay, let alone help me get out of the car. They had a good look and walked off. Fortunately another car stopped and a nice guy helped me out of my car then opened the passenger door and collected my wallet, phone, and the other miscellaneous crap in my handbag that had been strewn all over the floor.

A friend of mine has a medical condition with the nerves in his feet which causes him to occasionally take a fall. He has fallen over several times in public and is unable to get back up without a bit of assistance. People don’t rush to his aid, he has to specifically ask passers-by to give him a hand up and the majority of them ignore him and he has to ask five or six people for help before he’s back on his feet.

Why are people like this? I’ve never been in the position where I’ve witnessed a crash or someone taking a fall, so it puzzles me why people wouldn’t jump in to help. Do people not care, or do they figure that someone else will do it?

I was at Manuka Coles once and a disabled man in a wheelchair needed help to reach washing machine powder and to identify which was top loader and which was front loader. He asked a woman to help him and she ignored him and walked off. I was the next closest person so I helped him. It took about 45 seconds out of my day to grab two boxes, explain the difference, pass one to him and put the other one back on the shelf. It wasn’t some great humanitarian act on my part, the guy just needed help.

I like to think the majority of us are kind-hearted, but does this kindness only apply to our friends and family? People that we don’t know seem to get ignored. I wondered whether the situation of someone needing help takes people by surprise and perhaps they don’t know how to deal with an unexpected crisis.

Similar to when fights break out or a couple has a loud argument in public, perhaps people don’t step in because they think it’s not their business, and possibly don’t want to risk copping a fist to the face if it’s that kind of fight.

When it comes to every day incidents like helping someone up after a fall or helping someone out of a smoky car, surely there’s no danger involved in that. There’s not really any excuse to not help someone in need. Next time you see someone in distress perhaps we stop and ask ourselves would we be grateful for the kindness of a stranger if it were us in their position instead of them?


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Are Canberrans too uncaring?
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tim_c 1:18 pm 27 Apr 15

I’ve stopped to help a few people broken down in the past, but these days everyone has a mobile phone and they’ve already called a friend/family member for help.

I don’t tend to shop when the pensioners shop (I’m at work during the day) so not too many people looking for help in the supermarket either.

bluuu 10:26 am 25 Apr 15

Quite a few years ago, I slipped in a large shopping centre and landed flat on my back. A passerby kindly pointed out to me that there was a puddle on the floor as I was trying to get up. She continued walking. It didn’t seem right and then I realised she didnt ask me if I was ok.

carnardly 11:09 pm 24 Apr 15

Often its about ‘value judgements’.

Pretend you’re walking down the street. An elderly person with a shopping bag wandering along in front of you staggers and falls unconscious. Would you stop? Assist, ring an ambulance? Has he/she had a stroke/heart attack? If that person stopped breathing, would you resuscitate him/her. Some of us carry little masks for unfortunate events such as this. Who would hesitate? Who would try and help? Doesn’t matter if you do or don’t have CPR skills, but would you at least ring an ambulance, or go into a shop and ask for a blanket, check her purse for a medical conditions card, or ICE contact etc.

What about if that person was a young mum with 2 kids. You might take the time to hold little kids’ hands and try and comfort their crying. Obviously you’d also hope you’d the ring for help and do what you can too. Most of us would. Or a 50 yo man who looks like he’s professionally dressed in a business suit?

Most people would help yes? Certainly not just pass him and pretend it isn’t happening. If any of these 3 people stop breathing they have 3 minutes before they’re cactus. Or would you go past because you too had a parking meter running, or a meeting to get to or your bus was leaving in 2 mins.

Now it’s a Friday night and you’re wandering through Garema place from David Jones to the bus interchange. You see someone a bit ‘rough looking’ sitting on a seat near the chess pit. You hear a gurgle and a call and he collapses on the ground in front of you and doesn’t move. There aren’t too many others around. He doesn’t present like the above 3 people but looks like he needs a wash, and a shave and probably hasn’t had a shower and clean sheets in a while. What would you do? Hopefully you’d at least stop. Ring an ambulance? Good. go over and help him. “errr hang on – he might be a smackie’. He also just might be a poor and lonely person whose lost his job through no fault of his own and become one of canberra’s wandering homeless and was just sitting around waiting for a free feed from the St Vinnie’s night patrol (Bless St Vinnies).

Would you roll him over, check to see if he’s breathing. No he’s not. Gosh, he smells a bit funny and he teeth look a bit gross. You don’t have gloves or a mask with you. Would you resuscitate this guy? Why/Why not? He’s no more or less precious or valuable than the young mum or the old duck is he?

So then you get up to near Verity Lane and you see someone sitting down leaning on a wall in the lane collapse. You notice a needle hanging out a vein in their arm. You assume he’s a junkie too and he probably is. He ain’t breathing either – (yes, its an eventful evening tonight). You think gosh, you’d ring for help, but does the situation change for you? Are you prepared to put your lips to his. Do you think about HIV, hepatitis or other blood or other body fluid diseases. Or do you stand back and watch and hope that miraculously the ambulance that is 10 mins away somehow can break the time space continuum and get there in his 3 minutes? Or do you think, oh well, he’s a junkie, his problem and walk away. Or yell for a passer by to help and ask them to run into the shops to find a defibrillator and bring it back and hope to god they were treated seriously by the security staff to hand it over as its outside the centre and that that person could run fast?

People make decisions all the time. Maybe you don’t want to get involved. Maybe you don’t have time? We all only have 24 hours in our day and its up to us how we choose to use these. Do you think you don’t want AIDS because you have 3 kids of your own at home that you don’t want to leave in the lurch?

‘White and wealthy, educated, middle class Canberra’ (as a broad generalisation) has a lower overall number of roughies than many other places do. But move the goalposts of what you see in your ‘safe world’ and suddenly the world changes. I’d expect nobody would hesitate to jump in and help the top 3 situations, but the bottom two, well, … probably not.

Please think about it. My incident above had about 10 young people standing around going OHMYGAWWWWD – EWWWW YUCK MAN – LOOK AT HER BONES AND THAT MEAT – FARK THAT IS GROSS MANNN while the person was lying there screaming in front of them. I think that was when I said ‘boys, can you cool it please, she can hear you’ until she went unconscious a few moments later. Thank god at least they didn’t pull out mobile phones and video it all (to my knowledge.. I hope to goodness it’s not on youtube somewhere…?)

I asked someone, ANYONE whether they had towels or blankets in their cars. The only response of “NO WAY I DON’T WANT HER BLOOD ON MY STUFF’ was enough. Thanks mate – can you at least go into that café and ask for a towel, teatowel, or SOMETHING to use here as I had my hands over the warm, gushing bleeding stump of her lower leg trying to stop her from bleeding to death while she’s looking the sole of her own foot and seeing that her leg is shattered. Have any of you rung an ambulance guys??? ERRR NO – GOOD IDEA… f f s einsteins… I just shook my head. Maybe one day when its them that is injured they’d hope someone like me may stop and help them. And not be more worried about getting blood on my towel…

We don’t all have situational smarts or medical training. Some of us have both. I’ve done it, but also learnt from it. I had significant blood contamination from an unknown stranger which turned out to be inconsequential to me (the physical nature of my own work at that time meant I always had cut and scraped hands and many opportunities for infection to work its way in. But it was 8 months of cautious dealing in every day life, with my other half, changed behaviour ‘just in case’ , stress, expense (doctor’s visits, Hep B booster shot etc) until I found out that the pending period of potential contamination had passed with nothing positive developing. Phew!. Whereas if the hospital could’ve tested her and found she was in the clear, then I would’ve been off the hook that day. But privacy rules don’t work like that – they protect HER and not me. And after all of that, I never even got to know her name.

Each has their own line in the sand. I personally couldn’t stand there and watch someone die in front of me. Whether that was an old duck, or a roughie, or a junkie. Nor would I walk away.

Anyone else care to share your thoughts? What would you do? Why?

Arthur Davies 3:07 pm 24 Apr 15

Hope you are ok now. I remember a few years ago there were a number of college girls who used to get together at Ainslie shops, they were a bit rowdy for some. But later I saw an elderly lady at Dickson who had fallen & dropped her shopping. Two of the “rowdies” were helping to her car & picking up her shopping, good kids & well done, I purposely left the kids to it.

You can not tell who will turn up when a hand is needed, most people are good.

However I think being exposed to American TV programs tends to make people see the dark side of things & less likely to step up to help a stranger.

iris 1:23 pm 24 Apr 15

sorry to hear about your accident.

I have had mixed experiences. I think partly it’s not caring, and partly people not knowing whether it’s appropriate to offer help or how to help or like the other poster said, they are in a hurry etc.

When I was in a minor accident last year, a lady pulled over and made sure both drivers were ok and checked that we knew what to do. Which was helpful as it was a first time being in an accident for both myself and the driver of the other car. I still remember her kindness.

I also have a condition that makes me fall, with no warning. Sometimes, there will be lots of people around but no one would help. That is hard because sometimes I can’t get up by myself. But once in awhile, there would be really kind people. Like someone driving past saw me fall on the side walk, turned their car around and stopped and made sure I was ok. That was so much appreciated! But I have come to expect no help generally which is why I carry my mobile everywhere so that I can ring someone to help me and also why I started using walking aids and also learned techniques to help me get up by myself in more situations.

justin heywood 8:24 pm 23 Apr 15

I think Canberrans can be a little uncaring. Most of us lead such safe, comfortable lives and I think it takes some experience of hardship to develop compassion for others in difficulties.

In my experience, poor people in poor countries will literally give a stranger the shirt off their back – an attitude less common in rich countries. Similarly, anyone who collects for charities knows that the most generous houses tend to be in the poorer suburbs, while the mansions are hardly worth trying.

Generalising of course.

Wendeborg 5:21 pm 23 Apr 15

I also have a condition which causes me to lose balance and fall frequently. When this has happened in public, I am happy to say that passers-by have always rushed to my aid.

CyberJam 4:41 pm 23 Apr 15

There’s an analogy I discussed with someone recently that really fits in this discussion so I’ll share it.
“A young Canberra man was on his way to his car to beat the running parking metre. On his way he took time to help an elderly lady. When he eventually arrived at his car the metre had expired and he’d received a $97.00 parking fine.”
So what do you think the young man did the next time he found himself in the same situation?
“Sorry lady, I’m in a hurry!”
It’s the hidden cost of anti-social fines and fees. Unfortunately we all pay the price and the cost is a less desirable society.

Katietonia 3:41 pm 23 Apr 15

BTW if any of these things happened in Sydney or Melbourne you’d have even less chance of anyone helping….

Alexandra Craig 11:22 am 23 Apr 15

farnarkler said :

I think a lot of it depends on the person involved in the situation. If I see an older person involved in a car accident I’ll help all I can. If the person is a P plater in a white Commodore then they can sod off as, chances are, they’ll have caused their own demise by attempting a maneuver their 20 year old vehicle is not able to complete. As for the police, I’ve helped them on occasion, however, when I needed their assistance I received no help whatsoever. So I won’t be helping the police in future.

It’s a bit presumptous to say that if a P Plater in an old car is involved in an accident they must have caused it. There are plenty of people on the road (in old cars and new cars) that drive recklessly on their full licence. Of course there are P Platers that do drive in a dangerous way but if I saw one in a car accident, I wouldn’t automatically assume they caused it and drive off without assisting.

Re not helping the police – you could have that attitude but when the police need help it’s not to do with self interest. By not helping the police, you could be not helping an older person or a young woman in trouble, or a single dad etc. Seems a bit selfish to take the whole ‘an eye for an eye’ approach.

farnarkler 9:42 pm 22 Apr 15

I think a lot of it depends on the person involved in the situation. If I see an older person involved in a car accident I’ll help all I can. If the person is a P plater in a white Commodore then they can sod off as, chances are, they’ll have caused their own demise by attempting a maneuver their 20 year old vehicle is not able to complete. As for the police, I’ve helped them on occasion, however, when I needed their assistance I received no help whatsoever. So I won’t be helping the police in future.

Sophia Carlini 10:38 am 22 Apr 15

OMG that is horrible you poor thing! – glad you are A-Ok!
I totally think it’s a case of people not wanting to take responsibility/being to busy to have the time to fill out police reports etc.
Ugh people suck!

carnardly 12:16 am 22 Apr 15

I stopped for an accident at the dickson shops about 3 or 4 years ago where a middle aged lady dashed out across a pedestrian crossing on a bike (before it was legal) and a car ran over her. her foot was basically severed and was hanging on by an inch of skin at her ankle. compound open fracture of lower/leg ankle.

bottom line is i needed a few doctors visits an Hep b booster shot and 2 sets of blood tests. Safe sex the whole time just in case…

i can why people don’t help.

Hosinator 11:47 pm 21 Apr 15

Small update to my previous post (the wall blemish distracted me from finishing my post). By being observant you react to situations differently to most people who aren’t. You see a situation developing and anticipate the outcome and then are able to react to the events as the unfold.
Even so far as body language, I know when someone is seeking assistance from those around them simply by reading their body language or facial expression,s even if they are too reserved to verbally ask for assistance.

Hosinator 11:42 pm 21 Apr 15

I think I’m one of the few who seems to rush in to help. Broken down cars, people needing assistance to move heavy items, pick up something they’ve dropped or reach items high on a shelf, breaking up fights. I’ve called the cops at 2am to an unusual car in our street with only one visible person (turned out to be a group of 4 teenagers stealing the wheels off a neighbours car). I’ve also directed police/security at overseas international airports to abandoned/forgotten packages.

I put it down to always being observant. I’ve spent time in countries where when you walk down the street to the local shops/bakery/cafe you observe whether the guy standing next to his car having a cigarette is carrying a pistol, knife or cudgel. Or if the teenagers hanging around the entrance to an apartment are just mates catching up, or mates wanting to roll you for your wallet and leave you with a nasty beating or don’t care about your wallet and just want to give you a beating for a laugh.

This makes you very observant. So much so, I’ve noticed a small blemish on the kitchen wall. Better go get the sandpaper,roller and wall paint, otherwise it will drive me insane.

mchalmers 9:25 pm 21 Apr 15

Personally I think its a problem with society in general these days. People just don’t care about other people much any more.
Of course there are a few exceptions here and there (thank god), but on the whole far too many just care about themselves and everyone else be damned.

Brianna 8:17 pm 21 Apr 15

Many years ago, I saw a man sitting down in the door way of a mall. I assumed he was drunk and walked past him. Half an hour later, I was on my way out and saw the same man, trying to get up with the help of a young woman. Turns out he wasn’t drunk, he had fallen and didn’t have the ability to get up again.
I was so ashamed of myself that I have never looked the other way again. I have confronted a man verbally abusing his girlfriend, I have been the first on the scene at a motorbike accident and I often stop to ask people if they need help. Yes, I am now proud to say that I am one of the small percentage who WILL help.

Bennop 3:59 pm 21 Apr 15

Evilomlap said :

There can be significant risk involved in rushing to help. In 2003 I went to the aid of a woman being assaulted by her partner outside the Braddon McDonalds. I didn’t even attempt to hit him or anything I just told him to calm down. I got stabbed in the hand with a screwdriver for my troubles. Even now 12 years later the index finger of my right hand still makes a clicking noise when I bend it and still causes me some pain in really cold weather. Thing is I got told off by the cops because it could have been much worse, the screwdriver could have ended up in my gut rather than my hand if I hadn’t instinctively deflected it. That said, if faced with the same situation again I’d do the same thing. There were other people around and no one did a thing even after this guy had struck the woman with enough force to knock her to the ground.

I think a lot of people are sadly pretty self absorbed and don’t care. I mean take this, how many times have you heard a car alarm going off and just thought “will that idiot turn his stupid alarm off?!” rather than thinking it was someone’s car being broken into? I know I have.

Agreed.

I think people are pretty oblivious to a lot of things, and people are also risk averse and worry that getting involved will be a “traumatic” incident of some sort.

I dont think we can blame people for experiencing the shift in cultural attitudes that takes place no matter were you are. The higher density of people, the more “uncaring” they may seem.

I certainly dont expect anyone to help me if my car breaks down- that is what NRMA is for. And normally I assume others have the same access.

I’ve generally only seen people respond in caring ways when they have been exposed to an incident they should help within. But, as the author of this article might like to note, a singler person’s experience does not equate to an accurate reflection on society.

watto23 3:52 pm 21 Apr 15

I think its an unfortunate thing that has evolved in modern society. I know there have been times when I looked and assumed they were ok. Other times I’ve offered help and sometimes accepted. When I fly i’m always hoisting heavy carry on bags into the overhead bins for people, but maybe I’m subconsciously doing that just so we takeoff on time!

I had an accident in February where a driver rear ended me on my scooter. I was stopped and naturally flew off over the handles. The driver was too busy watching traffic on the roundabout to try and slot in and didn’t see me. However while my memory of the accident isn’t great I do know of at least 3 different people who stopped to help me, including the driver who was very apologetic but clearly very inattentive also. Another who stopped was a nurse and from memory and i think once she introduced herself as a nurse and an ambulance was on the way most of the other people not involved left the scene and just the driver the nurse and then the police and paramedics remained.

The thing is I have no way of thanking those who did stop to offer help. Even to write them a thank you note.

Back to the OP, I’m more inclined to help people selectively also. If I see a mother with 4 screaming kids, I stay well away, I don’t feel I could help in any way, if I see an elderly person or disabled person needing obvious help I will offer help. I think this is the crux of the issue, people will help sometimes and its hard to know when that time might be.
Just like people will stay out of things to avoid being involved, the lady abusing the muslims on the train the other day is another example and only one person stepped in to tell the woman to stop. If the abuser though was a large mean looking bloke I doubt anyone would have stepped in.

GardeningGirl 3:52 pm 21 Apr 15

“I turned my head to the side and saw two pedestrians peering through the window at me. They didn’t ask if I was okay, let alone help me get out of the car. They had a good look and walked off.”

I don’t understand that. I get what crackerpants said about logistics and safety, for example leaving little kids unattended while going to help, so some people aren’t in a position to do much without creating other problems. Or people might not want to help someone out of the vehicle for fear of aggravating an injury, or being sued for aggravating an injury. But to have a good look and then not say anything and walk away, I don’t understand. You’d think they’d at least stay and offer some reassuring words until trained help arrived.

“A friend of mine has a medical condition with the nerves in his feet which causes him to occasionally take a fall. He has fallen over several times in public and is unable to get back up without a bit of assistance. People don’t rush to his aid, he has to specifically ask passers-by to give him a hand up and the majority of them ignore him and he has to ask five or six people for help before he’s back on his feet.”

That makes me really sad. I probably wouldn’t help because I’d be worried the person is drunk or on drugs. When you hear about paramedics being attacked while trying to save someone’s life it certainly doesn’t encourage a small elderly lady to offer assistance to someone who might or might not be affected by a mind-altering substance. And that really is very sad that we have to worry about that possibility instead of simply looking after each other.

“I was at Manuka Coles once and a disabled man in a wheelchair needed help to reach washing machine powder and to identify which was top loader and which was front loader. He asked a woman to help him and she ignored him and walked off. I was the next closest person so I helped him. It took about 45 seconds out of my day to grab two boxes, explain the difference, pass one to him and put the other one back on the shelf. It wasn’t some great humanitarian act on my part, the guy just needed help.”

Other than not speaking English well enough to understand what the guy was asking (diplomatic staff?) I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t help.

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