I know you are here to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man. – Che Guevara
I was at McDonald’s at Bathurst and Dundas with a friend at 3am a few nights ago. We had danced for a few hours and now he was famished. We walked into the restaurant and we were bowled over by the crowd that was in the place. A bunch of people who had been dancing in nearby bars must have decided to come to McDonald’s for a nourishing meal before going home to bed. My friend and I were startled at first by the masses, but then we decided to enjoy the drunken reality show that was going on in front of us.
People of all sexes were grinding with each other as if there was music still playing in the background. Junior Chickens and Big Macs were being devoured with gusto. Conversations about sex, music, politics, and Calculus was going on all around us. I was happily taking it in.
Then, it turned sour. It turns out this McDonald’s is also where the local homeless people come to sleep when it gets really cold at night. They buy or are given a drink or some food, and they occupy some warm corner in the restaurant, put their jackets on their heads, and sleep. There were at least five of them in there sleeping away or watching the masses, while we were in there.
One of the young men decided that he didn’t like the smell emanating from the old homeless lady with only two front teeth. He started yelling at her to leave or he was going to call the police. He was obviously drunk and she was mentally unstable. That was a dangerous combination. Both of them started yelling at each other. At first, my friend and I just rolled our eyes at each other. It was comical to be standing in a McDonald’s at 3am witnessing a ‘Jersey Shore’ style scene.
But then, I wondered, why isn’t anyone doing anything? More importantly, why am I not doing anything? In retrospect, I should have said something to the young man – he was drunk, but maybe he could be reasonable. I stood there, rooted to the spot. I wanted to go say something to him, but I didn’t. I just stood there.
What was I afraid of, I analyzed later? Was I afraid that he would hit me? Was I afraid of being put on the spot? Was I afraid of getting involved? Was I afraid of causing a scene? Maybe it was all of it, but I never actually did anything.
A few moments after, a friend of the young man came up to both of them and calmed the man enough to stop the yelling. Everyone sat down peaceably.
But the incident stuck with me. This isn’t the first time, the bystander mentality has taken ahold of me. I have had this happen to me before, where something is unfolding in front of me, and I am rooted to the spot, cowering with indecision, unable to make up my mind whether I should intervene or not. Why does this happen? In every other aspect of my life, I have the mentality of start it now and then think about it later. I am spontaneous and impulsive in every other thing I do. I hop on board and then analyze or question later. I say yes to everything.
But when it comes to helping or hindering someone in a crowd, I wonder if my intervention would be at all useful and I get paralyzed with indecision and anxiety. I have this scenario in my head where my intervention would result in a situation ten times worse than without my interference. I worry about worsening the situation and therefore, I end up doing nothing.
I don’t like that at all. I have always been a doer. I want to be known as a doer. I want to take action, not stand in the periphery wondering if I should take action. I don’t want to be a coward.
I don’t know how I am going to do this, except practice. When I do fall into situations like this, which are going to happen more and more now that I am back in Toronto surrounded by drunk people all the time, I am going to try as hard as I can to do ‘something’. Anything. It doesn’t matter the enormity of the action. I just want to do something.