History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Back in January I heard a piece by Michel Martin on NPR about the dilemma of the bystander and I found myself a bit disturbed. She described an incident where a man was attacked on the Metro platform by two teenagers who just started beating him up for no apparent reason. There were other people there who witnessed the event, but no one stepped in to assist or call for help. I was appalled and then I choked up a bit and wondered what I would've done if I were in that situation. I'd like to think I would have yelled at the kids to stop it, or I would've run up to the Metro kiosk to request help or police assistance. I think I would, but I also know that I am much more loath to get involved in anything remotely dangerous when I have my daughter with me.
But the story stuck with me and I found myself bringing it up with everyone I talked to that week. I asked Mr. Q what he would've done if he were there and without hesitation he announced that he definitely would've stepped in to break up the fight. Which is no surprise considering he has stepped into fights before and he is the first one to speak up when he sees something unethical or suspicious going on. I love him for that (and for many other reasons, too).
When I brought it up with a group of girlfriends my friend Kimber (who also blogs with her sisters here) related a story when she was in line at the supermarket (with her baby) and witnessed a man verbally berating a small child and then threaten to physically "whip him." When he began to remove his belt Kimber piped up (something to the tune of), "Oh no, you are not going to hit that child." An argument ensued about whether or not this was any of her business, during which Kimber promptly called the police. But the store was packed with people and NO ONE else said anything to back her up.
My friend Suzanne once saw a group of teenagers beating up on another kid and when she called out to them to stop it or she would call the police, the kids turned on her. Despite the fact that she was out for a walk with her child in the stroller they hit her in the face and stole her cell phone.
So, to speak up or to stay silent? It can be a tough call to make, especially when you're with your child and your primary responsibility is to keep that child safe. But what are we teaching our children when we don't speak up and stand up for what is right? What kind of community are we living in when we aren't helping each other? I'm grateful to have such brave friends and family around me and I can only hope that when I'm in a similar situation (I hope and pray I never am!) that I will have the moral courage and clarity of thinking to make the best choice.