A worrying trend has emerged that affects all of us. This trend is often known as the “diffusion of responsibility” or “bystander effect”.

Diffusion of responsibility is defined as “a sociopsychological phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction when others are present. Considered a form of attribution, the individual assumes that others either are responsible for taking action or have already done so. The phenomenon tends to occur in groups of people above a certain critical size and when responsibility is not explicitly assigned. It rarely occurs when the person is alone and diffusion increases with groups of three or more” (Reference Wikipedia)

Let us look at some case studies.

1.         In 1964 in New York, Kitty Genovese came home late from work parked her car 100m away from her front door and was instantly pounced on by someone who stabbed her. Hearing her cry for help, some neighbours heard the disturbance and looked out of their windows. Frightened away by the attention, her attacker fled. Genovese staggered into the doorway of her apartment and collapsed. However her attacker returned 10 minutes later, searched the area, found the barely conscious girl, sexually assaulted her, robbed her and then finished her off with more slashes of his knife. It was believe that about 30 people witness parts of the attack but nothing was done to save her from her attacker.

2.         In October, 2009, in Richmond, a city on the northeast side of the San Francisco Bay in California, U.S., a fifteen year old student was gang raped by a group of young males in a courtyard on the school campus. At the same time a homecoming dance was being held in the gymnasium. It was believed that more than 20 witnesses were aware of the attack, but no one notified police for more than two hours.

3.         In October, 2011 in China, Wang Yue, a two year old toddler was ran over by two vehicles on a narrow road in Foshan, Guangdong. The entire event was captured on CCTV footage which showed approximately 18 people walked by Wang Yue as she lay bleeding on the street. After approximately seven minutes a female rubbish collector came by and stopped to help and carried her to the side of the street. Wang Yue was rushed to hospital, but, she succumbed to her serious injuries a few days later.

4.         In October 2012 in Malaysia, at about 6 a.m., a 60 year old lady was walking along a road near to a motorcycle park of an apartment building. A snatch thief rode by and snatched the bag she was carrying. She was drag along for a few meters and she fell on the road and fractured her skull. CCTV footage of the event showed a few people walking by and ignored her as she lay bleeding from her head wound. More than six minutes later, a passer-by came to her aid and called for help. She was rushed to hospital but she succumbed to her injuries about nine hours later.

Why do people not help when someone is in distress?

Most people fear getting involved might bring some trouble on oneself. Gangsters and oppressors may be carrying some weapons and may turn their weapons on the person who is trying to help the victim. The thought of getting hurt puts them off helping the victims.

In some countries helping someone in distress may in turn be targets of massive lawsuits. In some instances, dragging someone out of a burning car may cause more injuries to the victim. This may be a cause for a lawsuit.

This is a case that was reported in China:

“On Nov 20, 2006, an old woman fell to the ground and broke her leg after jostling at a bus stop in Nanjing, an eastern China city. A young man, Peng Yu, helped her up and escorted her to hospital. Later the woman and her family dragged the man to court, which ruled that the young man should pay 40 percent of the medical costs. The court said the decision was reached by reasoning. The verdict said that “according to common sense”, it was highly possible that the defendant had bumped into the old woman, given that he was the first person to get off the bus when the old woman was pushed down in front of the bus door and, “according to what one would normally do in this case”, Peng would have left soon after sending the woman to the hospital instead of staying there for the surgical check.”

This trend has actively discouraged people there from helping their neighbours; some places have enacted a Good Samaritan Law that protects people who are trying to help from the parties that punish their good deeds.

Example of Good Samaritan Act in Canada:

An example of a typical Canadian law is provided here, from Ontario’s Good Samaritan Act, 2001, section 2:

Protection from liability 2. (1) Despite the rules of common law, a person described in subsection (2) who voluntarily and without reasonable expectation of compensation or reward provides the services described in that subsection is not liable for damages that result from the person’s negligence in acting or failing to act while providing the services, unless it is established that the damages were caused by the gross negligence of the person.“

When do people help?

People will help when they feel that are involved in the situation. For example, if there is an accident along a stretch of road that is causing a traffic jam. In this case the people who are affected will work together to clear the road to allow traffic to go through.

A person who belongs to St, John Ambulance or Red Cross or Red Crescent Society will be more willing to offer help. This is also true for people who are involved in medical or care giving groups.

People are more ready to help their friends or associated. In the case of small towns, people who lived in small towns are more willing to offer assistance than those who live in the crowded cities. Maybe in the cities there are more stress and too many things are happening and this cause people to keep to themselves and not be distracted by the things that are happening around them.

What should we do then?

As a responsible person we should offer help to others when they are in a distress situation. We could offer assistance in a practical way.

We can do the following:

1.         We can assist by calling 911 or the police when we see a robbery in progress. We should be prepared to give complete information as to the location, the time, the number of persons involved and what is happening.

2.         Take photographs of the event and sent them to the relevant authorities. Pictures can be used to identify the perpetrators and victims of the crime committed.

3.         We can always raise the alarm when we see the offense being committed. In cases of fire in the neighbourhood, raising the alarm will help prevent losses to properties and lives.

There are other actions which you can take to assist in a distress situation. You must bear in mind your own safety and the safety of others when you offer help and assistance.


I do hope that I have brought some attention to the topic of “diffusion of responsibility” or “bystander effect” to my readers. I hope that we as members of a society will not grow tired of assisting our fellowmen when they are in distress. Let us continue to evolve as human beings with fear of God and love for our fellowmen. It would be a sad day if we ever come to the stage where we are not able to render assistance to our fellowmen who are in distress out of fear of negative repercussions to our actions. We should continue to live with hope and respect for all mankind.


Learn to say “NO”.

I can think about all the things I could have done if I did not agree to run petty errands for my friends when they requested me to do so. Many times I could have said “No” but I did not do so. This led me to thinking about why people agree to do something when in reality they should not agree to do it.  By agreeing to do what the other person asked, they have to delay or even did not get to do what they really want to do.

I can think of the following reasons why most people cannot say “No”:

People like to be appreciated. If we agree to do something for the other person we think that the other person will appreciate us better. If we disagree to the request we feel that it will probably make the other person disappointed. Bu agreeing to the request, we feel that the other person will appreciate us better because we have done something for them.

However, we prefer to think that this feeling is mutual without realizing that the other person may not appreciate us as much as we think. Thus when we ask for a favor in return and the other person did not agreed to return the favor, we feel hurt and unappreciated!

Sometimes the requester could be a person in authority. This is especially true in the work environment. There are many cases of people who cannot seem to finish their work at the end of the day. They spend a lot of time in the office. This could be due to them accepting additional work even when they have a lot of work to do and deadlines to meet.  They cannot seem to be able to manage their time and work schedule. Most of the time they cannot say “No” to their bosses or supervisors.

Some people are “people pleasers”. These people believe that saying “No” can cost a lot to them.  It is very unfortunate that they lack the confidence to say “No”.  They can be very talented people but not being able to say “No” can be a hindrance to their careers and personal development.

If you are a victim of always saying “Yes” when you have always wanted to say “No” then I have a few suggestions for you and I included.

We must practice to say “No” in an affirmative way.

We must remember that it is all right to say “No” to any request that we do not like. It is all right. That is nothing wrong with it. More often than naught, it is ourselves that we are trying to please. We have to put ourselves first. We have to say “Yes” to ourselves first before we can say “No”. The decision is entirely up to us.

When someone makes a request, we can ask to time to consider the request. We can say, “I will think it over.” During that time we can consider that the decision to agree or not is entirely up to us. It is OK to say “No”.

You can look the requester in the eye and shake your head and say “No”. However this needs some practice.

Practice saying “No” as the first word in your sentence. It is easier for you to keep your commitment to say “No” if the first word in the sentence is “No”. The requester might just say “OK” as the requester may not deem it as important anyway.

Here is a real incident that happened a while ago. I hear this from my good friend.

A neighbor wanted to borrow his old van for the evening. My friend is in the landscaping business and he used his van to transport his tools and plants in the course of his work. When my friend asked why he wanted to borrow the van. The neighbor answered that he wanted to transport his garbage to the garbage dump and he did want to use his own car for the purpose.

It is time to take stock and free ourselves from taking on assignments and tasks that we do not really want.  It is time to say “NO” to things that are not important and to say “YES” to things that are really important to us.

If you are like me, I hope that you can tell me something about yourself and how you deal with this problem of not being able to say “No”.