by Dominique Lie
I was pacing the way I always do when I’m anxious or nervous.
It was Sunday, and my church’s youth service had just ended. All my friends rushed to get plates of food and were catching up on each other’s lives, and I was caught in the chaos.
After finishing my own plate of food and promising to meet my friends again the following week, I rushed to get home and finish my homework only to find a man sitting on the steps leading to the entrance of my church.
He seemed exhausted and hungry, with his dark blue hiking backpack carrying all of his belongings sitting next to him, but he only looked at me with hope when he asked, “May I have a plate of food?”
For some reason, I paused. I knew it wasn’t a hard question. In my head, I knew the answer. “Yes, of course you can. I will get some for you.”
However, my brain didn’t feel like connecting itself to my mouth that day, and the words that exited my mouth said something like, “Uhhh…I’m not sure,” as I walked away.
Stepping back into the gathering area between the church buildings, I wondered what I could have been thinking about. I strolled up and down the purple carpet in front of the chapel as I gathered my courage to ask an adult where I could find another plate of food.
In the end, I did find him a meal, but I returned home conflicted. My experience caused me to wonder about the actions I would take if confronted with a moral dilemma that could cause me or other people physical harm—would I still hesitate? If something that only caused me to stray a few minutes off my schedule was so tough, what would I do in a situation that could cause someone to lose his life?
Recently, I watched my first live musical, Cabaret. At the climax of the production, set in 1930 Berlin, Fräulein Schneider sang the song, “What would you do?” as a response to Clifford Bradshaw who tried to convince her to stay with Herr Schulz, a Jewish produce man, when Ernst Ludwig, a Nazi, urged her to break the engagement, I realized how this question is one we should all ask ourselves when confronted by difficult situations or sensitive topics.
In light of recent events at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, I think the question, “What would you do?” has become as relevant as it was during World War II and the Civil Rights Movement.
When discussing the holocaust or school shootings, it is easy to believe that we would be heroes when in the same predicament. And, when presented with the ideas of the bystander effect, we think the same.
In reality, we would likely be pulled into becoming part of the overwhelming statistics of people who didn’t do anything to prevent or combat the situation. So, I’ve been asking myself, what can we do to push ourselves to take action?
Perhaps we should start small: take time to observe lengthy changes in someone’s mood, listen to someone who needs to talk, or even smile at a person walking by.
I never told anyone about what happened at church that day, because I was embarrassed and believed that it was slightly ironic that in a place that is supposed to be a refuge and exhibit altruistic qualities to the community, I had balked at the chance to help someone.
Ultimately though, I realize that this experience has allowed me to think about action and inaction in a different perspective, and I fear that as society becomes more technologically-oriented, we will continue to close ourselves off from conversation and debates about controversial topics, becoming more idle and desensitized.
And, as I continue to reflect on the rising issues affecting our country today, I also realize that the only thing worse than being conflicted while attempting to do something is doing nothing.