Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Bystander Effect - by Ronji Tanielu

On 13 March 1964, in Queens, New York City, a 28-year old young woman named Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death near her home by Winston Moseley. This murder did not gain much public attention at all until 2-weeks later when a New York Times reporter published an article about this tragic case. The article focussed on the allegations that dozens of Ms Genovese’s neighbours ignored her cries for help and chose not to intervene or even call the Police.

Bystander effect: Kitty Genovese, right, was stabbed to death near her home by Winston Moseley
Ms Genovese’s case has now gained legendary status in the United States. It led to research on the ‘bystander effect’ which studies why people choose not to help others in desperate need. It also prompted debate and change around Police phone lines, community togetherness and responsibility, and Neighbourhood Watch. It also influenced pop culture and the arts world with numerous songs, books, TV shows and movies inspired by this case. Moreover, budding lawyers and justice professionals around the world are taught this story at Universities and Colleges. In recent years, the legitimacy and accuracy of this story has been challenged by some.

Yet at the heart of this tragic case, in my opinion at least, lies three simple yet critical irrefutable elements. Firstly, Ms Genovese was murdered. Secondly, her cries of help were ignored by those around her: her community: her neighbours. Finally, Mr Moseley was rightfully convicted of the murder. But he is still in prison as of November 2013 and major questions arise around his rehabilitation and the appropriateness of his sentence.

A few days ago, our New Zealand national media ran stories about the vicious assault on Ms Praveet Singh
[1] in Papatoetoe, South Auckland. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, in a nutshell, Ms Singh was randomly beaten and assaulted while walking near her home by a man who punched and threw a bottle at her. Ms Singh was left with a broken nose and two fractured eye sockets. What really caught my attention were the reports of people who gathered and actually witnessed this assault and yet did not intervene at all. The echoes of Kitty Genovese’s story abound here. 

One of the witnesses told the reporters that they chose not intervene because he thought it was a domestic dispute and it was their business. Obviously the It’s Not OK campaign hasn’t reached him yet. Another witness continued to wash his car during the beating and didn’t want to intervene.


Ms Singh’s sad case made me wonder about my second point above – how her neighbours in her own community watched the beating yet chose not to help. I’ve done my own un-scientific research about this on the bus, with family and wherever I can, asking what they might do in a similar situation. Answers ranged from attacking the attacker, yelling out loudly, calling the police or gathering neighbours and intervening. Not one person said they would not intervene in some way. In theory, this all sounds good. I think we’d all like to believe we would at least do something to help in a similar situation. But in real life, with the adrenalin flowing, the fight or flight desires emerging, and with danger facing you, the theoretical responses are a little bit harder to put into practice.

So this brings me to me the big questions I’m asking myself…as well as those I sit near to on the bus: How should neighbours or communities truly interact with one another? How is this ‘bystander effect’, which manifests itself in our New Zealand societies in the form of kids going without food at school, or injustices happening in courtrooms, or loan sharks preying on vulnerable people, stopped so that we don’t just sit idly by while people suffer unnecessarily.

And for the Christian out there, what then do Yeshua’s words in Matthew 12 about loving neighbours actually mean? Does loving equate to being the hands and feet of Yeshua and providing service and support to others? Or does it also equate to being the mouthpiece of Yeshua and declaring a saving gospel message (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) that involves words like salvation, hell, repentance, sin and surrender that have become unpopular in modern theology and church circles?

Or is it all of the above? I think it is. Whether it is sad cases like those of Ms Genovese or Ms Singh or other similar situations, I submit that a true believer’s response should be to act as the hands, feet and mouthpiece of Yeshua. The bystander effect should have no place in our communities, particularly if we claim to be believers. So, what do you think?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Let Your will be done - By Samantha Ward

Late last year my bible study group went through a series on prayer. By this point of the year, I had finished university for the year and had returned to Auckland for the summer, however each week I was updated on what the group had looked at and invited in to join in the group challenge for the week. The first of the challenges was to each evening, at quarter past five, pray the Lord’s Prayer.

A few weeks earlier, prior to my leaving Wellington, we had discussed the Lord’s Prayer, though we each could recite it if necessary, when we did we never gave any real thought to what we were praying. It was just another one of those things you learnt in Sunday School, and never really gave much thought to since. Therefore our challenge was to not just make time for prayer each evening but to as we prayed, think about the words of the Lord’s Prayer and make them our personal prayer.

So not wanting to be the only one in the group to forget, I set an alarm on my phone for 5:15, looked up the Lord’s Prayer on my Bible app (I didn’t want to accidently miss a line) and resolved to actually pray, rather than recite, the Lord’s Prayer each night for a week.

The first day went ok. It was quite surreal knowing that in that moment, a group of us, though apart at the time, were making the same prayer, but though I tried to not just recite the Lord’s Prayer, I struggled to make it a personal prayer. However by the second day, it was already beginning to feel like a chore. My alarm went off, and rather than give any real thought to what I was praying, I recited the Lord’s Prayer in my head.

It was the sixth day of our week long challenge before I managed to actually complete a day of the challenge properly.  This time when 5:15 rolled around I was sitting on the train. Maybe it was because while on a two hour commute there isn’t much else to do, but this time instead of reciting, I pulled up the Lord’s Prayer, again on the bible app, and instead of simply reading it and then closing the app, I tried to read it line by line, and understand why Jesus, when teaching the disciples to pray, taught them this prayer.

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

 “Your will be done”, words that flow so easily off the tongue when reciting, much harder to pray with sincerity. So often I pray for things that I want to happen and while most of the time my prayers are said with good intentions, comparatively, I rarely pray for God’s will to be done. Praying God’s will be done, means signing up for something, before you are certain what it is. It means having complete faith in the plan God has, and putting your own personal plans, second to His. Not easy stuff.

As I looked deeper into the rest of the Lord’s Prayer, I began to properly realise that it was much more than a bunch of words memorised by Christians the world over. It was a prayer of surrender. It was a prayer acknowledging that it is God who is in control. It was a prayer that served as an invitation to God to use us for the furthering of his Kingdom- whatever that may look like and whatever it may mean for us.

The challenge officially ended the following day, and a new one issued, this time we were challenged to fast from something in order to give us more time to spend with God. My extra time was spent in prayer, but with a new focus – “your will be done”.
Samantha Ward is the Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit's summer intern for 2013/14. Samantha has just completed her first year at the University of Victoria doing a double degree in law and bio-technology. Samantha is also soldier in The Salvation Army and enjoys coaching and umpiring netball.