By: Amelia Tait | Walk on by: why do we ignore bad behaviour? | Neuroscience | The Guardian
It’s a familiar scenario: a packed train or bus, an unpleasant loudmouth picking on a lone passenger… and nobody does anything. What drives us to look away – and can we change?
What makes a hero? According to a popular meme going around at the moment, intentions matter more than actions. “Your grandparents were called to war,” it says. “You’re being called to sit on the couch.” In a way, sitting around and doing nothing is a new type of heroism, because going out and living life as normal makes you a passive bystander to a global threat. But in ordinary times, the difference between a hero and a bystander is far more clear-cut. What makes some of us the former, and some of us the latter?
As she was boarding the tube in London on an otherwise ordinary Friday morning last November, Asma Shuweikh felt a man rush past her. He made a beeline for an orthodox Jewish family sitting by the doors– a father and two sons in kippah. Brandishing a bible, the man began to hurl antisemitic abuse at the family; as Shuweikh stood in shocked silence, she noticed he had highlighted passages in his book. When the man turned his attention to the children, she decided she could not remain silent any longer: it was time to speak up. In a video that subsequently went viral on social media, the 36-year-old can be seen calmly telling the aggressor: “Come on, man, there’s children here… You’re on public transport.”
In some cases you can diffuse a situation by making a simple joke