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Genovese Syndrome

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It’s the thought that you are not the only one there capable of helping. That surely, the responsibility does not rest solely on you to help. Obviously, since there are so many others around, somebody is going to come to the rescue. Others have to see, have to hear, and have to be more capable of helping than you, so you do nothing. The Bystander Effect, Diffusion of Responsibility, Genovese Syndrome-whatever you call it, the result is the same. Nobody assumes the role of responsibility, nobody is the one more capable of helping, it is always someone else, until the point where the someone else does not exist at all.

Every time I hear the story of the brutal murder in the middle of a fully populated area where nobody, not one, called the police or tried to help in any way, I always think to myself, I wouldn’t do that, I would call for help. That’s when it all comes back-the screaming. That one word, “help,” echoing through my mind from years ago. I will never forget the sound, no matter how well the story turned out, because around the age of ten, I did what all those people did, I sat and watched, and did not call for help. It was small scale compared to the murder, a little playground parody of that famous night, but the results could still have been tragic. It has stuck with me as I have grown older; the day I unknowingly fell victim to Genovese Syndrome.

During my childhood, I was always toted around to all of my older sister’s basketball and softball games. I never played either sport because I watched enough of them to tire of both before I had even completed tee ball. I never paid attention to them; they are just a large void of boredom stamped in my brain. However, there is one that stands out stark in my mind. It was a softball game, one summer evening, and I had made a friend. Her sister was also on the team, so we often got together during the games and played on whatever the place we were at offered. This particular field had a jungle gym and swing set situated conveniently between the two softball diamonds. So this is where we found ourselves on that particular day.

It was toward the end of the game, maybe the second to last inning, I did not really know, like I said, I never paid attention. There was a gentle breeze and it was sunny; the perfect summer day. The place was packed with proud parents cheering for their mini softball champion children. Games were being played on both fields, so the sounds of cheering, excitement, disappointment, encouragement, all swirled and wrapped around us creating a sort of cocoon. We sat on the tire swing and idly swiveled back and forth as we talked. I cannot recall what we spoke of, normal ten year old gossip and troubles I suppose. It was rather calm, considering there were two noisy games happening on either side of our playground oasis. There were only three other kids there-a boy slightly older than I with who I guessed to be his little sister, pushing her on the swing, and a little boy around the age of seven, give or take a couple years. We paid them no attention as we spun in our own little world.

That was when it happened. Actually, to be honest, I really did not know how long it had been going on before one of us noticed. It was sort of a soft little sound-help. My friend and I turned our tire around to see where it is coming from and spotted the little boy several feet away. It appeared as if he had been climbing the curved, metal rung ladder that led up to the playhouse when he had slipped. Somehow, either on his way down, or to get back up, his head had got stuck between two of the bars. I looked over at my friend and she in turn looked at me and we asked the same question, “What do we do?” She then urged, “You go help,” to which I replied, “No you,” because I did not know what to do. I looked over at the older boy and his sister and they too were watching the kid stuck in the bars. I thought to myself, well, he’s older than us, he’ll do something, he can figure out what to do. Seconds went by, maybe minutes, but he did nothing. I turned my attention back to the little boy and realized all he had to do was turn his head sideways and he would be free, so, I concluded that he would figure it out eventually and I did not have to do anything. Little did I know that I should have been looking at his feet instead of his head, because I later found out that they were about an inch from the ground.

Thankfully, though, this story turns out better than the one it is named after, or I would not be able to live with myself. As the seconds went by, his screams for help grew louder and drew more attention, but still, no one came. Finally, as they reach their greatest crescendo, his plea penetrates the noise barrier from the game, and parents come running. Among them are mine, and by the looks on their faces, I knew something was extremely wrong. I had never felt more ashamed in my life. I watched as a couple lifted the boy to relieve the stress from his neck; that is when I had realized his neck was what had been holding him up. I had just sat and watched as a kid’s life almost slipped away; and I had done nothing.

The rescue team of parents soon got him calmed down, found out which field his parents were at, and carried him away. I solemnly followed my father and mother in the opposite direction to where my sister was still playing. Everyone around us was oblivious to what had just happened, still happily and angrily screaming in the spirit of the game. All I could do was apologize and say I did not know what to do when they questioned why I did not help him or at least go for help. To be honest, it had never occurred to me to go find someone who would know what to do; I had figured someone else would. Eventually, with weary sighs, my parents tell me to go back and play. I obliged, but only because I imagined I could feel waves of disappointment coming from my parents, directed at me, even after they told me they did not blame me and everything was okay. All I could think was that everything had almost not been okay. I no longer felt like playing.

It took me years to overcome the shame and guilt I felt for not doing anything, years to stop thinking about the what-ifs. What if the parents had not heard, what if they thought it was some kid screaming as he played a game and ignored it, what if he had never walked away from that playhouse? Those questions haunted me for years. I have since vowed to myself that if I ever suspect someone to be in any sort of trouble I will either help or call for help. Even if I see someone else who I think is going to help or going to call the police, I will not be a bystander. I will never again sit by and watch as a situation spirals toward the tragic ending I almost saw over eight years ago. This memory has stayed locked away, safe in my mind, where only I could find it. Until this moment, I had never told it to anyone, but telling gives me a sort of release. It was like I had been holding my breath for eight years, had even gotten used to the feeling, when it came whooshing out and suddenly I realize I can breathe. Writing it all down freshly engraves it into my mind. While this may sting a little, it also helps me remember the lesson I learned. A lesson I never want to forget. A lesson from the day I fell into the trap that is Genovese Syndrome.



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