Tweeters have been slammed for being harsh about Sophie Mirabella's (lack of a) reaction to Simon Sheikh's collapse on QandA last night, but I think it's a bloody good thing indeed. Were no one to have noticed her recoiling reaction, then I think we would have a problem.
It says to me that thank god Sophie Mirabella's hands-off approach to other people is not our societal norm after all. You see, I once saw a man collapse on George Street during the lunch time rush and at least twenty people in front of me stepped over him and continued on their way without a backward glance. If I told you that he was a homeless man, would that change the way you see this scenario?
As it happens, he wasn't. He was a guy in a suit who had just learned that he'd lost his job, walked out of his office building, made it 10 metres up the road and reacted to the shock. Down he went. Over they all went. One after the other - this is not our business, what is he doing down there, how embarrassing. Those were the things I heard as I neared the scene and went to that man's aid. When I stooped down to help him, ten other people instantly rushed to my side and could not do enough.
It's called the 'bystander effect' and it results in a 'diffusion of responsibility'. When there is a group of people, each of them assumes that the rest of the group will take responsibility. They might feel that others around them are better qualified to help; that others will do a better job; that it is none of their business; that they will do the wrong thing and make the situation worse. While they feel guilty for not doing anything, it is not enough to bring themselves to take control and draw attention to themselves. The result is that no one takes responsibility until someone comes along who believes it is one of their roles in life to help others and they will take over the responsibility for everyone. The 'helpers' are in the minority, despite what we might like to believe. Most people will do nothing.
I don't know if I was born a 'helper' or if it came as a result of learning the story of Kitty Genovese in a social psychology class at uni, but for as long as I can remember, I have reacted immediately to situations around me. I'm in there whether you want me there or not. So, I can say with my hand on my heart that I would not have sat there the way Sophie Mirabella sat there.
I can also say with my hand on my heart that it's not okay to judge Sophie on the way she reacted when someone was in need. You don't honestly know what you would have done in the same situation unless you've been in that situation before and been the 'helper'. Sophie was on national television being directed by a film crew - the diffusion of responsibility effect would have been very strong in that situation. The crew were there, it was their job to help Simon, Sophie might have worried about 'doing the wrong thing' by the crew and the show on national television.
In the end, she did do the wrong thing on national television, and I really feel sorry for her because it's probably not her fault. Is she a cold, heartless person who would leave a fellow panelist to suffer? Well, maybe, maybe not. We can't necessarily judge her based on what happened last night. But the fact that we noticed it and we're saying that it's not okay - well, that's a very, very good thing indeed.
Did what happened on QandA change the way you think about society?
About Sophie Mirabella?
[Image found here]