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JAM | Jan 28, 2023

We have to address this ‘age of bystanding’ in Jamaica

Zemelyah Shaw

Zemelyah Shaw / Our Today

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Two weeks ago, a viral video of a man assaulting a woman as she lay on the ground just outside the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court in St Andrew made the rounds on social media, triggering outrage among Jamaicans.

The incident occurred in broad daylight and with many passersby standing witness to the abuse. In the video persons recorded the altercation at a distance, some exclaimed but no one stepped in.

The man, later identified as Jovany Stephenson, was seen stomping on the woman—the mother of his child in a fit of rage—and in a shocking twist, the incident took place just metres away from the Half-Way Tree Police Station.

The phrase “See and blind, hear and deaf”, is one that means to mind one’s business, and is commonly used in Jamaican society.

Many believe that the safest way to live is to not get involved in ‘other people’s problems’ and though there is some truth to this, where do we draw the line?

When is the right time to interfere or should we interfere at all?

The irony behind the popular phrase is not lost on me as of many Jamaicans do the complete opposite in some of the most dangerous situations.

In some instances, citizens of this country often go towards an incident despite it being a potential risk to their lives, however, despite onlookers approaching him, no one stopped the man from abusing this woman and no one got ahold of him as he walked away.

Why is that so?

Herd mentality?

In circumstances such as this where no one actively interferes until after the incident happened, there is room to speculate that no one acted because no one else did. There are people who might be in a crowd of people and want to take action but do not because no one else has. This happens more often than we are willing to admit and is commonly known in psychology as ‘herd mentality’.

It is the inclination one might have to neglect their individual feelings, morals or opinions, as a result of adopting the behaviours and actions of the people around them.

Being part of a group leads people to deindividuation and become less self-aware, they become less likely to follow normal social restrictions and more likely to lose their sense of individual identity. This may result in the dampening of one’s natural inhibitions, causing them to perform or ignore an act they would/wouldn’t normally do; their individual morals and principles have been replaced by those of the group they are in.

Furthermore, being a part of a large group can make people feel unseen and lead to a person’s fear of repercussions being significantly reduced. So everyone is looking to the other person to act instead of taking action themselves. 

We are all subject to experience this at some point, however, if it is for your own safety or to be of help to someone who needs it, here are some ways to snap out of the herd mentality:

  1. Practice social-awareness

The natural tendency we all have is to take in what we see others doing and simply copy it. Once you are aware of this predisposition, you can begin to be more conscious of your decisions and opinions

  1. Assess the situation properly

In order to give yourself the chance to make the best decision for the given circumstance, take a second to decide what’s the best option for you or the people around you and then act on it.

  1. Be willing to stand out

To break away from any social norm, you have to be open to having all eyes on you and potentially put yourself in harm’s way depending on what you do. Persons might be looking to see what you do to decide their next move.

4. Danger of Helping

The fear of stepping into a situation such as the one presented is reasonable as there is no sure way to know if you yourself would not have been harmed by trying to step in. Bystanders open themselves up to the risk of becoming a potential target when they interfere.


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