Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Psychology Today: The Bystander Effect at Raging Waters

Sometimes we would have ourselves believe that we would act a certain way in a given situation, when in reality, in the same exact scenario, we may act completely different. Once this topic came up in discussion with Irene. The question was, if you saw a girl walk by, and her bosom was inadvertently flashing every Tom, Dick, Jane and Harry (and you were pretty sure it wasn't on purpose because you had all your clothes on and so did everyone else around you), what would you do? Would you tell her? Are you thinking to yourself that of course you would because if you were that girl you'd want someone to tell you?

If so, Irene agrees with you. Which is noble. She is a very noble lass and one of my favorite people because of it. But I think she may be wrong.

When it comes to going up to complete strangers and pointing out to them some super embarrassing thing they have going on, it takes more gutsy-oomph than people would think. Or maybe it has nothing to do with guts at all and stems more from compassion. The kind of compassion where you want to help the troubled person save face by acting like nothing at all is wrong when their skirt's tucked into their underwear or they have a large piece of leafy green stuck in their teeth. Or it could even come from confusion. The situation could be rather ambiguous. Say it's not a piece of spinach leftover from lunch in the person's teeth. Let's say it's from some traumatic impact they suffered that left them with a stained tooth. If you mistakenly pointed it out as something to be embarrassed about, who would look like the idiot then?

In psychology, the phenomenon of not helping someone when they need a hand in a populated area is known as the bystander effect. And I experienced its effect first hand the other day while at Raging Waters, a raging good time of a water park. Until you're made to go on the water slide with the 6 foot drop that throws you in the water with such force that you can barely remember which way to swim once you come up for air. The kind of force that contorts your swim attire and twists wires and fabric shaped to fit your body, to cover the parts necessary for water park admittance, all out of shape.

You see, after the slide deposited me back into the pool, I didn't emerge looking like Naomi Campbell in Wild Things. Water went up my noise and chlorine under my contacts and I couldn't even see beyond my own hair. If I could have seen myself from someone else's point of view, I'm sure I looked like a drowned rat. Which is why at first, when the staring grandfather not only stared but turned to follow me walking by and jr. high children followed his gaze, I thought nothing of it. Only when I felt the warm air on a piece of skin that usually does not get to feel the romance of a summer's breeze, did I look down to see my ... exposed décolletage, if you will.

Now, when the Spice Girls were at the top of the charts, I didn't really fully embrace the whole Girl Power movement (if you can even call something supported by a group with members with names like Scary Spice a movement). But seriously, the lady lifeguard who saw me get out of the pool -- the one who watched me climb the whole 5 step ladder out of the pool, who saw me sputter and spout, cough and hack out pool water -- couldn't say a peep to me about my exposé? Maybe she was busy focusing on making sure no one drowned. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.

I think we could all benefit from putting all the pleasantries and courtesies aside and just telling someone when something you THINK shouldn't be happening/showing/sticking out/stained/unzipped is happening/showing/sticking out/stained/unzipped. Next time you see that green piece of spinach and think maybe it's a dental birthmark, you should know, it's not. (Well, at the very least, it's safe to say that that is highly improbable and it's much more likely that the spinach lasagna special at lunch looked too good to pass up).

***

Things To Do This Summer:
1) Visit Hearst Castle
2) Have a cave adventure
3) Go to a water park
4) Denise's wedding
5) Go to the beach

1 comment:

Irene said...

I still think that I would help out!

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