COMMENTARY 982.1: Do a Little More

In 1964, a young woman named Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment building in Queens, New York. She was attacked repeatedly over the course of an hour and despite her screams, none of the 38 neighbors intervened or called for help. Some were afraid. Some didn’t want to get involved. Some thought someone else would do it.

This incident has become a symbol of the increased callousness, self-centeredness and fearfulness of a society where brutes, bullies and other bad guys act without worry of interference from onlookers.

The long array of billion dollar scandals rocking corporate America, for example, is not so much the result of growing hordes of clever scoundrels as it is the product of passive complicity of innocent people who are willing to look the other way to protect their job, their relationship with the boss or incentive compensation.

The moral root of the issue is responsibility. As Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

I don’t think we have the obligation to put ourselves at risk to right every single wrong we witness, but we should be willing to do so when the consequences are serious and we are accountable for creating an environment that is hostile, not accommodating, to illegal and unethical conduct.

The duty of responsibility requires both good sense and courage to help us avoid the extremes of the doing nothing and trying to do everything. One thing’s certain, though, the world will be better if we’d all do a little more.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 4

  1. I have no idea why you go from depicting a heinous crime to the “billion dollar scandal rocking corporate america.” They are not one and the same! You should know better than to allude that the issues, the process, the victims are all the same or even worst because we are talking about “billions”. Very sleek way of throwing in your progressive thinking!

    1. The vast majority of people are sheep. LTC Dave Grossman (ret) speaks of sheep, wolves and sheepdogs in his book entitled “On Combat.” The wolves are predators–and the sheepdogs (the military, law enforcement) are those who stand up for the majority (sheep) who would prefer to pretend that there are no such things as wolves. But the metaphor is more broadly applicable than just speaking in terms of life and death issues. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King; Rosa Parks; Erin Bockovich were all sheepdogs: They stood up against social and corporate wrongs despite the potential personal cost. Something most people are unwilling to do. Actually, the Kitty Genovese case led to a substantial body of literature that identified the phenomenon of “bystander apathy” and helped us to understand the concept of “diffusion of responsibility:” Precisely what Mr. Josephson is speaking about. [BTW, if you are ever “in a pickle” your chances of being assisted typically go down in relation to the number of people available to intervene (unless the individuals are known to one another and act as a group on your behalf). You are usually going to be more apt to have someone come to your aid if there are only one or two; a crowd of onlookers is apt to remain as just that!)

    2. Like the amygdala doesn’t know the difference between a threat of a weapon or a scary situation; character doesn’t know the difference between the street and the boardroom.

  2. I think the point is well made. I interpret the passage as referencing the lack of responsibility and personal accountability from the street to the board room, and everywhere in between. There are too many people who are willing to look the other way when their attention is needed the most. I teach the Exemplary Police Officer (Josephone Institute’s publication) to police recruits. The definition of professionalism (which is being adapted as the definition of professionalism across the state) is defined in the small book and I reinforce if you have to ask yourself if it is right or wrong, it is wrong! If the officer witnesses a wrongdoing, even of another officer he/she has a duty to intervene and or report it. Moreover, it doesn’t matter if the officer is on or off duty. How do we identify lack of integrity in others? By not paying attention to the small infractions which lead to large entitlements equaling billions. Billions or street infractions it is still a lack of character and should not be tolerated.

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