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17 May 2007

Apathetic people irritate me a lot. This is not so much a rant as a disappointed thread.
I go out for a walk at least 2 hours a day. Once in the late afternoon and again around 11 PM. Tonight I was walking past a nearby donut shop. A woman was struggling to change a flat tire. I asked her if I could help and she said yes as she had been struggling for awhile. The problem was that she was trying to loosen the bolts with the car already jacked up. I lowered the car and helped her get on her way.

What irritates me is the fact that I counted 14 people in the donut shop not including the staff and at that time of night at least one car a minute comes through the drive through. She had time to pull into the parking lot, jack-up the car and struggle with the bolts for several minutes before I came along. Why didn't anyone there before I got there do anything to help?
Also, see here.
posted by dg 17 May | 23:23
Look at it this way, arse.... the situation gave *you* the opportunity to commit a random act of kindness.

Anyone could have helped, but you were the one that did. Good on ya.
posted by Doohickie 17 May | 23:48
True Doohickie, but it is still disappointing to see.
posted by arse_hat 17 May | 23:54
Perhaps you were the first to notice she was struggling. I doubt I would give someone a second glance who was able to jack up a car on their own.
posted by mischief 17 May | 23:55
Well, that and my heart isn't strong enough to change a tire anyway.
posted by mischief 18 May | 00:01
I suppose you are right mischief, but I would always offer to help any single person working to change a tire.
posted by arse_hat 18 May | 00:02
hmm, put it that way, I guess I probably would help out a woman just on the chance that she was single. Perhaps break the nuts for her.
posted by mischief 18 May | 00:09
I was recently in a position where I nearly thought I was going to have to give someone CPR. It was at the Los Angeles Greyhound station.

I was walking from the gates on my way out to the "courtyard" at the "front" of the building, passing that bottleneck where the ticket counter, security desk and inbound "arrivals" wing join together and there was a man in his late 50s or 60s down on the ground on his back and uncommunicative.

Apparently he had just recently fallen over, landing on some guys leg and foot but still striking his head on the ground rather hard, according to eyewitnesses.

Not even the guy who he landed on had checked his pulse. Said guy was basically standing there and being stupid with his mouth open. Not even the 4 security guards had checked his pulse (I asked, loudly) and I couldn't tell if he was breathing.

I got down on my knees (60 pound back pack and all) and checked his pulse at the wrist, and noted he was indeed breathing, shallowly.

They hadn't even called 911 yet. (Again I asked, loudly.) Apparently he'd been down for at least 2-3 minutes already. I told the (absofuckinglutely useless motherfucking) security to call 911. Now please. From any phone. Now. Loudly but calmly.

I was able to rouse him. Carefully, so as not to move him. His leg or knee was possibly injured and at an odd angle. He didn't know what day it was, but knew his name and knew he was in LA. I got him to open his eyes and look at me, and checked his pupils and they were fairly responsive and snappy.

I asked him if he was on any medications, and he pulled a freshly printed sheet from his pocket which indicated an entire grocery list of heavy psychiatric drugs. He'd apparently been recently released from a hospital or clinic or something. If I was on all of that I would have fainted too.

I told him not to move and that the paramedics would be there soon. And then I got the fuck out of there, because there's probably no place else in the world with as many hungry lawyers as LA.

The whole experience left me rattled, though, for a whole number of reasons.

I already knew that the private security goons at Greyhound stations were basically the bullies that dropped out of Police Academy. I actually watched these same idiots pepper-spray a bum an hour and a half earlier - but somehow I hadn't made the connection that they were actually useless and totally unhelpful in an actual medical emergency.

I already knew that people are - in general - stupid and useless. I really hadn't seen such incredible apathy before. It was like watching cows standing around - confused, unseeing, unthinking - watching a fellow "downed" cow.

Yeah, that's a whole lot of bitter, but goddamnit.

I already knew I could - theoretically - do CPR correctly. Though I haven't been certified since the late 80s I know that the compressions/breaths ratio had changed to approximately 30/2, up from the 10/1 ratios of before, with emphasis on chest compressions.

I hadn't ever known that I would actually be ready to do CPR, stranger or not. I was totally ready to, (rather minor) risk of communicable diseases and all. Blech. Yum, Tuberculousis! Mono! Or even just vomit! Who the fuck knows what!

I think I'm going to add a CPR mouth-shield to the small first aid kit in my bag when I can afford it. While I still love the idea of being a dumb, helpful Boy Scout, I also really don't like the idea of my dumb, helpful ass being an idiotarian hero and putting himself in harms way and catching something. Even if it's just a mouthful of someone's vomit. Gah.

So, yeah. People often suck.
posted by loquacious 18 May | 00:18
I have never been able to find another person's pulse.
posted by mischief 18 May | 00:23
Good on ya, a_h, for your kind act and all, but did you really expect a donut-store patron to volunteer to change a tire??!! That's like going on "Millionaire" and using Dubya as your lifeline.
posted by rob511 18 May | 01:13
"That's like going on "Millionaire" and using Dubya as your lifeline." is cracking me up way more than it should.
posted by arse_hat 18 May | 01:22
Did I rant about the blind guy in the bank here? Probably. Short version: a (very obviously) blind guy managed to get stuck in this weird little glassed off "cul-de-sac" area in the entrance foyer of a bank, in full view of everyone (full house). Nobody helped. Why? Why? Even if the patrons simply didn't want to lose their place in line, why didn't a bank employee go out and help him? I did, though I was afraid I wasn't really going to be able to communicate with him very well, which poses a difficulty when trying to steer a sighteless someone to where they need to go. But he spoke English, thank goodness, so it was fine, and he was a sweetheart.

It kind of shook me up, though, because it happened here in Greece (and not even in Big Athens, but in Thessaloniki), where I've been entirely convinced that people are much kinder in regard to this sort of thing, across the board. Casually rude? Absolutely. But much more humanitarian to a person in trouble. That incident still leaves me puzzled.
posted by taz 18 May | 01:38
At work the other day someone brought in some biscuits (cookies) and I grabbed one and took a bite. The first taste and I realised it was coconut, to which I'm allergic. I managed to spit it out and there was no harm done.

But in the ensuing discussion about who would have given me mouth-to-mouth, had I gone into anaphylactic shock, I realised that the last words I was likely to hear would be

"I'm not doing it"
"Well, don't look at me"
"It's not my job"
"I don't get paid enough for THAT"
posted by essexjan 18 May | 02:00
jan, that's so weird as I just watched an episode of The Smoking Room about just that sort of thing.
posted by arse_hat 18 May | 02:08
So it seems civil responsibility and good citizenship are things that maybe can't be taught. Governments have to lead by example and the recent example is of a government which is paranoid, violent and unco-operative on a national and international scale.
Possibly we are seeing the children of the Thatcher/Reagan 'I'm alright Jack' years who have been brought up on a diet of self-centred capatalist solipsism.
Remember, 'there is no such thing as society'.

Another consideration is that city living requires one to ignore 99% of what goes on around us as a defence against the overwhelming number of events that we are party to on a daily basis. The opposite is true in a village or small town.

Helping people is just not the default setting for the majority of us. Not that this is a good thing.
posted by asok 18 May | 04:09
I know for a fact that doctors coming out of medical school in the UK these days are routinely advised that, outside of their actual job, if they come across someone who needs medical help, they should not volunteer assistance or even admit that they are a doctor, because of the threat of litigation.
posted by chrismear 18 May | 04:16
I love The Smoking Room. I don't suppose there'll ever be a third series, but those first two were comedy gold /derail
posted by TheDonF 18 May | 04:46
I have absolutely no idea how to change a flat. It's never happened to me (so of course it will tonight on my way through CT). And I've heard nasty stories about people being sued for cracking a rib during CPR, though that probably wouldn't stop me.

It's not apathy so much as diffusion of social responsibility. Everyone knows about Kitty Genovese. Unfortunately, since then parents have not magically started teaching their kids to take individual responsibility for their fellow man. And the news doesn't help; teaching us to be terrified of strangers because one person got jumped falling for a flat-tire scam, or the aforementioned CPR lawsuit. The minute you disengage and enter the situation personally, you can no longer be on autopilot. You must be physically present, aware, and alert for anything out of the ordinary. You give up your imaginary guarantee of safety because you are now involved; a participant instead of an observer.
posted by Eideteker 18 May | 05:38
posted by quonsar 18 May | 06:11
This is a classic "group think" situation. If you don't immediately respond from your own gut, then the fact that the group around you is doing nothing will make that seem like the thing to do. Not only will you then have your own inertia to overcome, but also the feeling of breaking from the heard, and even the implied criticism of them that you make by doing so.

I was made aware of this by a friend who always responds immediately to any racist talk in his vicinity.
posted by StickyCarpet 18 May | 06:46
Some of this is actually regional, believe it or not.

I spent about 8 years in Seattle, and there the local cultural ethos is overwhelmingly that one should mind one's own business and never embarrass others.

Unfortunately this sometimes extends to moments of crisis or when people needed help. To wit, about 10 years ago, I was walking up Seneca street downtown (a street with a very steep pitch), when I saw a primly dressed middle aged women take a tumble, almost slipping into oncoming traffic. Nearly everyone on the street (there were literally dozens of people around as it was lunch time) just walked by her, (some literally stepping over her) and ignored the situation, while I did everything I could to try to break her fall and lend her assistance. At the time, I was furious, but I later came to learn that this was part of an ethic out there not to embarras her by calling attention to the situation. As fucked up as this seems, it did jibe with the rest of my experiences with strangers in Seattle.

Contrast this to a recent experience I had in NYC. A young woman crossing the street was struck by a taxi at relatively low speed. She was lifted onto the hood of the car and then flopped onto the street. Immediately, I saw three people opening their cell phones to dial 911, and half a dozen folks went directly over to her to lend her aid. This is also jibes with similar experiences in New York over the many years I've lived in and around the city.
posted by psmealey 18 May | 07:14
psmealey: Well, here's a counterexample from NYC. Around 6pm one day I came upon a woman in her 30s dressed in a business suit who appeared to be sleeping on the sidewalk, not too far from various homeless people doing the same thing. I must admit my first reaction was "poor thing, she needs to get back in rehab." Fortunately before I had time to think it over one person stepped from the passing streams and called 911. Turns out this lady was in dire need of immediate medical attention.
posted by StickyCarpet 18 May | 07:27
There are always going to be counterexamples, StickyCarpet. Though I can understand the reluctance to get involved in the instance you mention, you're right that that doesn't make it any less unforgiveable.

The "groupthink" point you make is an extremely valid one.

It's just that something that has always stayed with me is that I have seen some appallingly callous behavior in reputedly "nice" Seattle, and some incredible examples of overwhelming generosity and empathy (particularly on 9/11) in "nasty" NYC over the years. Having seen enough similar examples in both places left me with indelible impressions of both cities.
posted by psmealey 18 May | 07:36
Btw, much of what I'd read over the years indicates that the Kitty Genovese legend was based on a sensational, poorly researched, written and factually inaccurate newspaper article.
posted by psmealey 18 May | 07:54
So it seems civil responsibility and good citizenship are things that maybe can't be taught

On the contrary, I think they can and have to be taught. But I agree that the culture at present does not teach and reinforce the habit of helping very well. Nerdy as it may sound, I think a 'service ethic' is part of a good upbringing, and those who weren't raised with one look on it with suspicion or fear. Cultural institutions like Scouting and religious organizations and fraternal organizations used to make this sort of thinking part of their regular mission. Before the counterculture began breaking those institutions down and changing the focus of the culture from the group to the individual, the service ethic was stronger. (Of course, there's a negative side to having people 'help' you all the time, too - no denying that). In any case, we've been left with a weakened sense of what's appropriate to do to help others.

A friend of mine who used to live in NYC fainted on the subway one day, out of the blue. It was during a heat wave, and she'd run for the train, got in and stood holding a pole, and just went down. Next thing she knew she awoke staring at the subway ceiling. Nobody had moved to help her. This was a 30-year-old cute blond lady dressed for office work. People seem blase, not shocked, when hearing this story, and generally understand why no one stepped up to ask if she was OK - because 'You never know, it could be a scam. It could be a setup to rob you. She could be on drugs'. Etc. I understand the reasoning, but at the same time I recognize that this is the kind of suspicion and fear we now teach each other and our kids, rather than teaching 'see if you can help.'

Years of working in community settings has trained me to be a quicker responder. As a teenager I can remember hanging back when people obviously needed help, believing I didn't really know what I was doing and feeling embarrassed about having myself stick my neck out. But the more lifeguarding, first-aid training, and wilderness time I did, the clearer it became that it's responsible and kind to act fast. 'Waiting and seeing' can indeed be a life or death thing.

Essexjan, in the case of anaphylaxis, I thought mouth-to-mouth would do no good anyway because the airway is already closed? The epi-pen and quick assistance are the responses I'm aware of. Am I wrong? Life-threatening allergies are so common now that I've had a few run-ins with them. Once at camp I sprinted to the medical office 1/4 mile with an eleven-year-old girl over my shoulder who had just been stung by a white-faced hornet and was starting to react.

But another time, I underreacted to an illness my own father had that could have killed him. My threshold for helping is lower than it used to be. Might as well do what you can when you can.
posted by Miko 18 May | 07:55
That's really interesting about Kitty Genovese; my perspective on that changes. I still can't let all the neighbors off the hook, since I imagine that a woman being stabbed to death sounds a little different than your usual 'lover's quarrel,' but it's good to know that the 38 people weren't actually watching the whole thing progress and doing nothing.

My favorite study on the bystander effect is this one:

Bibb Latane and John M. Darley, "Social Determinants of Bystander Intervention in Emergencies," in Altruism and Helping Behavior, ed. by J. Macaulay and L. Berkowitz (1970): pp. 13-27.

In this experiment we presented an emergency to individuals either alone or in groups of three. It was our expectation that the constraints on behavior in public combined with social influence processes would lessen the likelihood that members of three-person groups would act to cope with the emergency.

College students were invited to an interview to discuss 'some of the problems involved in life at an urban university.' As they sat in a small room waiting to be called for the interview . . ., they faced an ambiguous but potentially dangerous situation. A stream of smoke began to puff into the room through a wall vent. . . . The 'smoke,' copied from the famous Camel cigarette sign in Times Square, formed a moderately fine-textured but clearly visible stream of whitish smoke. It continued to jet into the room in irregular puffs, and by the end of the experimental period, it obscured vision. . . .

The typical subject, when tested alone, behaved very reasonably. Usually, shortly after the smoke appeared, he would glance up from his questionnaire, notice the smoke, show a slight but distinct startle reaction, and then undergo a brief period of indecision . . Soon, most subjects would get up from their chairs, walk over to the vent and investigate it closely, sniffing the smoke, waving their hands in it, feeling its temperature, etc. The usual Alone subject would hesitate again, but finally would walk out of the room, look around outside, and finding somebody there, calmly report the presence of the smoke. . . . The median subject in the Alone condition had reported the smoke within 2 minutes of first noticing it....

Subjects in the three-person-group condition were markedly inhibited from reporting the smoke. Since 75% of the Alone subjects reported the smoke, we would expect over 98% of the three-person groups to include at least one reporter. In fact, in only 38% of the eight groups in this condition did even one person report.

...Subjects who had reported the smoke were relatively consistent in later describing their reactions to it. They thought the smoke looked somewhat 'strange.' They were not sure exactly what it was or whether it was dangerous, but they felt it was unusual enough to justify some examination. 'I wasn't sure whether it was a fire, but it looked like something was wrong.' 'I thought it might be steam, but it seemed like a good idea to check it out.'

Subjects who had not reported the smoke were also unsure about exactly what it was, but they uniformly said that they had rejected the idea that it was a fire. Instead, they hit upon an astonishing variety of alternative explanations . . . Many thought the smoke was either steam or airconditioning vapors, several thought it was smog purposely introduced to simulate an urban environment, and two actually suggested that the smoke was a "truth gas" filtered into the room to induce them to answer the questionnaire accurately! Predictably, some decided that "it must be some sort of experiment" and stoically endured the discomfort of the room rather than overreact.
posted by Miko 18 May | 08:14
OK, I'm never, ever, ever moving.
And you should all come live here with me.

Yes, you'll occasionally get stuff like that here. But for the most part people here are, well, nice. Helping strangers shovel cars out of snow. Helping blind people navagate public transit. (saw the latter just this morning. a high school boy in pseudo-thug dress advising an elderly woman as to which her stop was and helping her to the door)

I don't know, it could be me. Maybe my mindset is such that I'm more likely to remember the two people who stopped to help me pick up spilled groceries than the those who walked past without a second glance. I remember the faces of people who kept the train door open for me when I'm running just a few seconds late (one nice man had just gotten OFF the train, and doubled back when he saw me), but not the people who stare blankly on the days when the door closes as I lunge for it.

I might mentally filter out apathy. I should try and bottle that, could make a good buck on it.
posted by kellydamnit 18 May | 09:32
This isn't the same thing at all, but my commute home on Wednesday was complicated by a medical emergency in the subway car I was in. See, I got on the train at 53rd and Lex; moments later a pride of policemen started clearing us out, and a gaggle of EMTs rushed in at the other end of the car. I couldn't see what was going on. The train conductor came on the tannoy to tell us that, due to a medical emergency, E and V trains were now running on the F line from W 4th St to Queens. I was a little irritated as I milled towards the escalator up and over to the 6 to go down to Grand Central and take the 7 over, but when I caught a glimpse in the subway window and saw that a woman was having a baby, right there in the car, I figured it was worth it, and smiled all the way home.
posted by Hugh Janus 18 May | 09:34
Wow, she'll have quite a story. Hope all went well with the sudden delivery.
posted by Miko 18 May | 09:45
Uh, oh, I did it again || Happy Birthday 2 ramix!