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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.

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?

What’s Your opinion?


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33 Responses to
Are Canberrans too uncaring?
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.

Evilomlap 3:15 pm 21 Apr 15

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.

Testfest 2:52 pm 21 Apr 15

Dame Canberra said :

Sorry to hear that happened to you, Alexandra. I’ve had mixed experiences in Canberra with this sort of thing. The first time I crashed my car several people stopped and asked if I was okay and helped me sort out swapping details with the other driver etc. But then when my car broke down during peak hour on the parkway just a few weeks later I had no assistance from anyone (thank goodness for parents living just a few km away!).

The parkway in peak hour – yeesh. That must be the worst time and place to break down in all of Canberra. The road is jam packed with people trying to get to work or home in a hurry, and the shoulder of the road is not that wide, making it a very nervous place to be standing as traffic goes by at 100km per hour.

I can totally understand why nobody stopped to help you there. If a person is not actively waving their arms and trying to flag down traffic, then I would just assume that the NRMA has been called and is on their way.

A car crash is a totally different story though, whoever is first on the scene should be stopping to render assistance – and as your story proves, that seems to be the way most people see it… Although Alexandra’s story about rubbernecking pedestrians after her car crash is a worry. What a pair of tools.

Roksteddy 2:48 pm 21 Apr 15

After I heard stories like this in the past I vowed to myself to not be one of those people who just walk past. I help where I can or at least offer to help.

A couple of weeks ago I was stopped on my motorbike in a line of vehicles at a roundabout. When several gaps in the traffic appeared and the lead vehicle didn’t move the people banked up behind started honking their horns. I thought it was obvious they were broken down so I rode my motorbike around to the front and offered help. When it became apparent the driver was an attractive female with short shorts, then, of course, males came from everywhere to help!

JazzyJess 2:11 pm 21 Apr 15

On a more positive note at least 6 people rushed to help a lady who fell at the pedestrian crossing outside Gungahlin woollies a few days ago. There are still good people out there.

dungfungus 12:31 pm 21 Apr 15

vintage123 said :

Could be worse. I recall when I was working in the Middle East, at the line in the shopping centres the men have priority and I saw a man physically push all the women out of the way on his way to the checkout, another time I saw a man punch the women out of the way. On the roads over there they often just crash other cars out of the way. It is not uncommon to see a man driving a 120k land cruiser just smashing his way through traffic. I think we should be grateful Australia is as good as it is.

…for the present, only.

crackerpants 12:31 pm 21 Apr 15

This is a hugely-studied phenomenon known as the bystander effect, and it applies to humans rather than just Canberrans. It basically says that the more people are around you, the less likely you are to receive assistance. It’s staggering that humans work that way, and I’m sorry that that happened to you Alexandra.

I help others when I can, but I have to say that’s much less likely to happen if I have my kids with me. Little things like getting a breastfeeding mum a glass of water in a cafe, yes, but stopping at a roadside accident scene with 3 little kids in the backseat poses all sorts of logistical and safety concerns.

Solidarity 12:30 pm 21 Apr 15

Haven’t seen it myself, seen plenty of disabled/elderly people requiring help, have only needed to help a handful of times due to other people rushing to their aid before I can react.

vintage123 11:48 am 21 Apr 15

Could be worse. I recall when I was working in the Middle East, at the line in the shopping centres the men have priority and I saw a man physically push all the women out of the way on his way to the checkout, another time I saw a man punch the women out of the way. On the roads over there they often just crash other cars out of the way. It is not uncommon to see a man driving a 120k land cruiser just smashing his way through traffic. I think we should be grateful Australia is as good as it is.

Alexandra Craig 10:56 am 21 Apr 15

Rollersk8r said :

It’s also like not calling the police when you hear a disturbance or an argument in the night. Natural instinct is it’s probably nothing, I’ll look stupid reporting this, I don’t want to go out there and check, I just want to go back to sleep…

Yes! This is a great example. I’m a big believer in not wasting police resources but so often you hear stories of big disturbances where the police either weren’t called, or by the time they were called it was too late. Way better to be safe than sorry, I think.

Rollersk8r 10:28 am 21 Apr 15

Dame Canberra said :

Sorry to hear that happened to you, Alexandra. I’ve had mixed experiences in Canberra with this sort of thing. The first time I crashed my car several people stopped and asked if I was okay and helped me sort out swapping details with the other driver etc. But then when my car broke down during peak hour on the parkway just a few weeks later I had no assistance from anyone (thank goodness for parents living just a few km away!).

I think there are people around who will always help. It’s in their nature. Others are too scared or don’t want to get involved or can’t be bothered.

It could be worse. We could be all refusing to help others because it’s against company policy or we don’t want to get sued, like it is in the US (where people die as a direct result of others’ inaction): http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/03/04/cpr-refusal-woman-dies/1961407/

That is another point – in the age of mobile phones everyone assumes help is not far away, if the person is not in immediate danger.

Rollersk8r 10:27 am 21 Apr 15

I reckon it’s only about 1 in 20 people that have the instinct to rush in and help in any sort of confronting situation – and I’ll admit to being one of the 19 in most cases. The assumption is someone else is already directly involved or better equipped to help. Although, if there was absolutely nobody else around, then I mostly likely would help.

It’s like that campaign they have to call the ambulance if you even slightly suspect you’re having a heart attack. People die because they think they’ll be ok, no need to trouble anyone.

It’s also like not calling the police when you hear a disturbance or an argument in the night. Natural instinct is it’s probably nothing, I’ll look stupid reporting this, I don’t want to go out there and check, I just want to go back to sleep…

Dame Canberra 10:21 am 21 Apr 15

Sorry to hear that happened to you, Alexandra. I’ve had mixed experiences in Canberra with this sort of thing. The first time I crashed my car several people stopped and asked if I was okay and helped me sort out swapping details with the other driver etc. But then when my car broke down during peak hour on the parkway just a few weeks later I had no assistance from anyone (thank goodness for parents living just a few km away!).

I think there are people around who will always help. It’s in their nature. Others are too scared or don’t want to get involved or can’t be bothered.

It could be worse. We could be all refusing to help others because it’s against company policy or we don’t want to get sued, like it is in the US (where people die as a direct result of others’ inaction): http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/03/04/cpr-refusal-woman-dies/1961407/

1renicus 9:46 am 21 Apr 15

Pretty much most people wont help in situations like this.

It isn’t unnatural or unusual, people just don’t want to get involved in things that don’t directly concern them. It’s why it’s such a big deal and becomes a big story when someone does, because it’s rare.

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