During the Vandy rape trial, witness after witness has described seeing the victim in some state of distress–the roommate saw her being raped on down to the people who just saw her passed out in the hall, undressed, sick and injured–and doing nothing. Just getting out of the way.
Over and over, the students describe why they didn’t call the police or why they helped in the cover-up. Two words keep coming up–1. “afraid,” which I get. I can imagine being afraid. But 2. “brother.” These guys, these alleged rapists, were their “brothers.” They didn’t want to stand against them.
We joke “bros before hos” and Those Darlins sing all about how they “wanna be your bro.” And most of the time, it is funny. Being your friend is awesome. You seeing me only as something to “stick it in” is not that fun. Ha ha ha.
And then something like this will happen to illuminate just how far the distance between bro and something to stick it in is. What woman doesn’t want to be your bro if it means I get help, even when I’m in the wrong, if it means I get your concern, even to the detriment of the people I’ve hurt? Being your fucking bro is awesome.
I don’t know. I suspect I might have, in college, been the kind of person who would have seen something wrong and not really recognized my obligation to help. But I don’t know. Someone passed out? Someone I knew? I feel like I might not have been the right kind of help, I think I would have tried.
But you don’t know, do you? Not until you’re in those circumstances. Maybe it’s not about identifying with the people doing the terrible things as it is trying to avoid being lumped in with the the kind of people this stuff can happen to.
A big part of the problem is that we give juveniles completely mixed messages about whether they should help or stand up for the abused in these situations. I went to private Catholic schools, and the parable of the Good Samaritan was harped on at length and often. But what I discovered is that while this was held up as the model of good behavior, in reality what the adults enforced was very different. Every time I stood up to a bigger, stronger bully, I got punished. Everytime I put myself between a bigger, stronger bully and a child younger and smaller than myself, I got punished as a troublemaker. We tell children stories that praise the brave who do right and protect others, but then we make sure they know those are only stories and the imitating them will have a very different ending.
It’s painfully clear, by this case and the others like it — Steubenville, dear Jada in Houston, tick off the rest — that we are doing an even sorrier job of instilling any sort of a sense of empathy in our kids. We’re worse now than society believed in its shock over the Kitty Genovese case, and I can’t tell you why, because I’m simply not made that way. I cannot see — and have not seen — a living creature in some sort of danger without trying to help. In one case, it involved someone considered a “bro” – until he did what he did, that is.
I wonder if this is part of the continuing phenomenon of children being allowed to raise themselves because of self-centered, willfully distracted parents. If the kids have no guidance, whether by instruction or by example, on treating others respectfully and kindly and being aware that we each have a responsibility to help others when and if we possibly can, then they’ll rarely learn it on their own. Especially since the social guidance they usually wind up seeking, and getting, is from peers with the same lack of it. It’s not just a Western cultural development, but Western values (or lack thereof) encroaching upon other cultures is, I think, linked to it; witness the tiny girl in China a few years ago who was hit by two vehicles in the street and ignored by passers-by. (That reaction was blamed on lawsuits against Good Samaritans there, yet we in the U.S. have laws *mandating* Good Samaritan efforts.)
Teaching children to respect and care for other living beings (as well as inanimate objects, like other people’s property) is not on the agenda for a lot of the adults now in their lives. The kids live with tunnel vision, unaware of anything beyond of their own earphones, and this is one of the results. How do we get the attention of the *adults* so they’ll raise the kids to have some humanity? I have no idea. It’s something on my mind a great deal, though, because I see lesser examples of it every blessed day.
Thank you very much for this post and for your Pith post, B. Every effort to bring awareness is a good one.