How many of us would stop an assault in progress? Josh Misner considers the psychology of the question.
On Saturday, May 31st, at Kansas City’s Rockfest, frontman Aaron Lewis of Staind had an internal choice to make. Should he use his microphone to continue belting out the lyrics from “Something to Remind You,” or should he use his microphone to call out an injustice he saw happening in the crowd at that moment? Based on the Bystander Effect, social science would suggest that, since there were plenty of other people around to stop this problem and do something about it, he would continue singing, because the more people there are around as an injustice is occurring, the less likely any one person will stop to say or do something in the face of such injustice.
Luckily, Lewis took the path less traveled.
As he was performing, Lewis noticed a teen girl crowd surfing, as so many concertgoers at a Staind concert tend to do. I should know. I did it myself back in 2003 when they came to my city. The injustice in question here was cowardly and something that, as a father of a teen girl, I find nauseatingly reprehensible. It seems that some of the males took advantage of the teen’s helpless position and began helping themselves to her body.
“Listen up, you fucking assholes, that fucking girl over right there is like 15 fucking years old and you fucking pieces of shit are molesting her while she’s on the fucking crowd!” The band stopped playing as Lewis’ apt tirade continued: “Your fucking mothers should be ashamed of themselves, you pieces of shit. You should all be fucking beaten down by everyone around you for being fucking pieces of shit. If I fucking see that shit again, I swear to God, I will point you out in the crowd and have everyone around you beat your fucking ass.”
Fortunately, the power of Lewis’ demands, combined with the amplified power of his stage position and microphone, ended the situation peacefully, and moments later, the concert resumed.
Now, here’s the real problem: for every Aaron Lewis, there are hundreds, if not thousands of men who would have said nothing given the exact same situation, not to mention that it is more likely their fathers who should be ashamed of themselves for not teaching their sons to have more respect for a woman’s right to live her life without the fear of being randomly fondled.
So, why did Aaron Lewis speak up instead of allowing a “normal” sense of communication apprehension to prevent him from doing so? Part of the reason is undoubtedly that Lewis himself is the father of three girls. Something interesting often happens to men when they become fathers to girls: they develop a deep and newfound sense of empathy and compassion for women, and why? Because they see these atrocities happening to other women and know deep down that it could just as easily happen to their daughters.
The next question is, would any of us “regular” men, the ones who don’t have fame, fortune, and a captive audience who has paid to see us perform, react the same way in a similar situation? What if we were out in a bar, and we saw a sleaze ball grabbing women nonchalantly as they walked by? Would any of us step up and say something? Odds are, most of us regular guys would like to think we would, but very, very few (if any) of us have rehearsed such a situation in our minds, and of course we haven’t, because that isn’t something on which we would likely devote that much mental energy.
But, here’s why we must all rehearse our own Aaron Lewis moment . . .
Communication apprehension strikes us all. It happens whenever the anxiety over the uncertainty surrounding communication prevents us from the act of communicating. For many of us, that might be standing up and speaking in public, while for others, it is a crippling condition that prevents them from ever ordering a pizza over the phone. The best way to get rid of it and get over it, in almost any situation, is to reduce the elements of uncertainty. So, for public speaking, we would practice our speech, we would survey the physical layout of the room, and we would get to know what our audience wants to hear. The more uncertainty we can eliminate, the more confident we will feel when the situation arises.
If any of us are going to make the world safer for our daughters and granddaughters, we have to be ready for when our Aaron Lewis moment presents itself, because the disgusting thing about this is, it happens far more often than it ever should. This is one speech we, as men, should all practice giving, because it is: a) far too important to let a moment like that slip away without saying anything, and b) far too critical a moment to screw up because we failed to make our point heard enough without a microphone and paying concertgoers to back us up.
Come on, men: speak up if and when you see a woman or girl being violated. Think about how you might feel if it was one of your daughters.