Ever heard of the ‘bystander effect’?
It’s a sense of apathy that holds us back from helping people in need.
When something happens in public, our initial, human reaction is to hang back and not get involved. Especially if a ‘heroic’ act looks like it could be painful.
That’s simply a survival mechanism.
But as humans, we also look out for each other. And all it takes is one person to step forward to make a difference. That one person inspires someone else.
Confidence is contagious.
And that’s why SmartCatholics puts a focus on thinking like a first-responder. We need to break that ‘bystander effect.’
But a lot of people still feel a sense of fear at striking out and taking a stand.
- Do I need to be a Scripture whiz?
- Do I need to know all the dogmas and documents of the Church?
- Do I need to have read everything the popes and bishops have written?
- Do I seriously need to read the Summa?
No, that’s not what we’re talking about.
Check out this quote by His Holiness, Pope Francis;
“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle.” – Pope Francis
So this is why first-responders like you and me are vital.
But note; a first-responder is not a surgeon.
Not a doctor with degrees.
Their job is to get to the scene as lightly and quickly as possible. They ‘triage’ the situation.
That means they identify what’s safe, and what’s dangerous. Can the patient be moved? Or do we need to stay here with them, and wait for backup?
They create the first connection that a hurting person needs.
This is what we need to be as Christians, as the feet and hands of Christ to the world.
We don’t have to know everything. We don’t need degrees and hundreds of hours of videos under our belt.
We just need to be present to others. To ‘triage’ in our own way the situation, and be present to people on their terms.
Sometimes a stranger or a friend is hurting, and are ready to be ‘moved’ – meaning, are ready for an active invitation to join RCIA, or come see a Mass, or listen to a talk.
But more often than not, people in pain aren’t ready to be moved. Like a broken back, a broken heart needs to rest. Internal wounds from trauma and tragic disappointment are hard to assess.
This is why friendship and joy are a pre-requisite to evangelization in our daily lives.
People need to know that we care before they care what we know.
There’s absolutely a place for ‘broadcast evangelization’, when someone gets up with a microphone to share their witness to the Truth. You often need to earn that right to be heard – like a doctor or a surgeon.
And we absolutely need to have an answer for the joy that is within us.
But who does the actual moving and inspiring in a field hospital?
Who accompanies people through the pain, and inspires a will to hold on one more day?
I think it’s the nurses and the first responders. They are present in their persons to others. They accept people where they are, and give them the little that they need to be empowered in their own journey.
This is not a new ministry in the Church. This is not a new kind of evangelization.
This is a way to think about how we can respond to the Holy Father’s call to witness with our attention, our kindness, and our presence.
So how do you be a first responder?
How do we break the bystander effect?
It’s simple. And hard.
It’s like a journey of a thousand steps. It starts with one step.
We have to get used to taking action. Even small actions. To assess a situation, decide on an outcome, and take a step to making it happen.
- Getting used to being passive leads to being a bystander.
- Feeling overwhelmed at how terrible everything is around us leads to being a bystander.
- Believing that you don’t have anything to offer leads to being a bystander.
What’s the answer?
Take action to stand up for what’s right and good.
Actively look for the good and the true and the beautiful in the lives of others, no matter who they are.
Believe that the world needs what you have to give. Because God is nurturing in your life specific tools and charisms for your own benefit and glory, and for the inspiration of others.
Always be open to learning, to being present to others, and be willing to listen twice as long as we want to talk.
Then you’ll find that being a first-responder is not a dramatic moment of heroism.
But an attitude to serving and helping others discover the joy of being alive.
You become a magnetic person.
And that’s just smart.