I saw something shocking that made me sad for humanity. Yesterday a dog who clearly had an owner (tags, collar) ran across a busy LA street in front of my car. I took a dangerous left and rolled down my windows asking people if they saw the dog. So terrible that people seemed nonchalant, saying they thought it went down the block. Two people followed me in their cars, all of us chasing down this giant German Shepard weaving in and out of streets. I was screaming to people – big burly men of all people!- to please try to catch him. They did nothing. Finally, holding up traffic and tailing this dog and watching not a soul on Melrose in the middle of the day do a thing to stop this dog, he turned a corner and ran into his house. The group of us made sure he was actually home, and took off. This was not an act of heroism on my behalf. It was what I felt I would want someone to do for me, and for all of life. It was normal, right?
People asked me why I did that and said, “It wasn’t your dog? Oh. Why did you do that, then?”
Diffusion of responsibility. You are at home in a big apartment building, you hear someone screaming in distress and you presume that someone else is taking care of it. You see someone walking down the street fall and struggle to get up, but you keep walking because someone else is there that will do it. You notice that a lock is broken on a public door but you presume it has already been reported. You see smoke but you believe that it must be nothing because there are no alarms going off.
This and a million other scenarios comprise the horrible phenomenon called “diffusion of responsibility.” Its like saying, “It’s not my problem.”
The less you are willing to take responsibility in any area of life, the more you will get crushed and “victimized” by life in general. It’s a sad fact. If you only look out for yourself, why do you expect others to look out for you? That’s what I wondered when I saw this whole scene go down with the loose dog.
I used to be a part of the responsibility diffusion. Being willing to take more responsibility for what crossed my path transformed a lot of my life and helped me to get through really big crisis times, as well as navigate the smaller obstacles without falling to pieces. It also makes it very sad to see the diffusion happening around you… but at least you know you are doing what you can to stay connected to humanity and remain causative in your life! xoxo Dana
Group Think! The more people around the lesser likely hood that anyone will act because they think someone else will. Rock on Dana!
Dana, what you did was absolutely the right thing. You certainly needn’t ask if it was normal. Normal is hardly the standard bearer for morally right. It was right for you, for the dog and for the community. You are an example to your readers here and to those burly men bystanders who now have that scratchy conscience or subconsciousness reminding them of their moral inaction. A German pastor during the Nazi regime wrote a now-famous poem of the consequence of such inaction called “When they came for me..” You should check it out:
It was poignant and moving then and it remains so now. You just lived the reality.
This was one of the more striking principles to me in psych class. The more people around in an emergency, the less likely any one person is to help. So they taught us, in a situation where you need help, directly point to someone and say “you…call 911” or whatever instruction is needed. You have to call someone out and tell them what to do. In those situations, they do it.
Learning that helped me be more responsible in public too. I can’t always assume someone is taking care of it, because I now know that its likely nobody is.