One evening I was driving home from work and as I came up to the railroad crossing near my house, the lights were on and dinging to alert me of a train. This particular railroad crossing doesn’t have any arms to go down and block off the road; it’s just the lights and sounds. As I approached the crossing and looked to see where the train was, I realized that there wasn’t a train coming at all. I sat there for a couple minutes, then rolled down my car windows so I could listen for the train.
So, I drove across the railroad tracks and made my way home. I was home for a little bit, and then my husband and I left to run some errands. When we approached the tracks, the lights and sounds were still on!
I checked the time. It had been over 20 minutes since I had crossed those tracks. There were houses literally just feet away from the tracks. How could nobody have done anything and just let the alarm sound for that long?
I called the local police department and let them know about it. They said nobody had called.
And you know what, it was fixed when we came back through.
This got me thinking, though. Why is it that nobody had called when I had seen other cars drive through the crossing and there were at least 4 houses within distance of hearing it? Nobody had to do anything heroic, just report it to somebody to get it fixed. So why didn’t they?
In social psychology, it’s called the bystander effect. Technically, this means that if a person is hurt, the chances of someone helping are actually lower when there is a big crowd around than if there is just one person there. You would think that having lots of people to help would be more helpful, but it’s actually not. This is because everyone thinks somebody else will help or is helping.
In the case of the railroad-crossing-effect (can I coin that term?) nobody had tried to fix a problem because they thought surely somebody else already had. That’s why I didn’t call anyone the first time I crossed those tracks.
How can this apply to life?
The truth is, this idea is important in so many areas of life. There is no better person to help than you. It applies to everything from helping a person pick up something they dropped to ending world hunger. If you always think that someone else will do something, it’s likely not being done.
Know of something wrong that’s happening at work? If you think someone else will report it, it’s probably not getting reported.
Or, have you seen the same assistant working hard day after day? If you’re assuming someone else has recognized this or expressed their appreciation, it’s probably not being done by anyone.
Hear of a volunteering opportunity that you might like to do? If you think “someone else will do it,” it’s probably not getting done at all.
The reality is this: everyone thinks someone else will do something. To make a difference in the world, you need to be the one who actually does something.
What have you been on the sidelines for that you can take action on this week?
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