Yesterday at brunch, as my (most congenial) companions and I were nearing the end of our meal, I was disturbed by something taking place across from us. We were seated on a covered, outdoor patio at long tables with benches, rather than chairs. A couple in their mid-20’s arrived midway through our meal, and sat on the other side of the patio from us. He was wearing a polo shirt and shorts; she was wearing a fitted, diaphanous skirt, whose hem touched the floor.
At one point I overheard her comment to him that she wanted to switch the bench she was sitting on for another. She then got up, dragged the bench she had been sitting on across the patio, and dragged another bench back to their table. Her skirt being less than ideal for performing manual labor, and the benches being rather heavy, this task was performed in a somewhat awkward, ungainly manner.
What I found particularly disturbing about this incident was the fact that while all of this was going on, her hale and hearty, sporty boyfriend continued to eat his appetizer, and did not make a move or even offer to assist her. Rather, he left her to do all of the work herself, despite the fact that he was in a far better position to lend a hand moving furniture about, given what she was wearing, and that the bench she wanted was one directly across from him. One was tempted to comment to her, upon leaving the restaurant, “You know, this fellow is probably not someone you want to continue seeing.”
Now I admit, it’s entirely possible that the boyfriend did nothing because, based on previous experience, she may have informed him that she does not like men to do things for her, such as open a door or pull out a chair – a mindset which has its own set of problems. However I rather suspect, from what I observed, that he was quite the dominant person in the relationship. He was simply more interested in eating his boudin balls, than in attending to her needs.
Does this mean that I am judging? You bet I am. For as it happens, I’m not only judging this couple – I’m also judging myself.
When I saw that she was struggling, why didn’t *I* get up and assist her? Why didn’t I intervene, even at the risk of making him seem like the fool which he so clearly was? Couldn’t I have even voiced, “Would you like a hand?”
The answer is, sadly, that we have all embraced cowardice as the social norm, in our uncivilized culture. We roar and wail in our various forms of media about all sorts of perceived injustices and slights. Nevertheless, when we come face-to-face with a situation in which a wrong is taking place, chances are fairly good that we will do nothing. We lie to ourselves, and think that we are brave, because we post a comment that takes a stand on an issue, when the fact is that in the crunch, most of us back away.
You’ve probably read or heard recent reports about a young man who was stabbed to death on the DC Metro a few weeks ago in broad daylight, on a train full of passengers, only one of whom even dared to say anything to his attacker. The commentariat’s outrage machine, full of armchair quarterbacks as it always is, exploded with nonsense along the lines of, “I would have done x, had I been there.” The truth is, upon finding themselves in a similar situation, most would have done exactly the same thing as the other passengers on the train: embraced their inner coward, sat there quietly, and done nothing.
I do not suggest that all of us need to jump into a knife fight, the next time we come across one in our travels. However I do argue that we need to stop lying to ourselves and recover our sense of courage, if we are also to recover our culture. There is little real bravery in hitting a “like” button, particularly if you never take any action in real life.
Sometimes, yes, it is wiser to keep our mouth shut, and our opinions to ourselves. It would be foolish to think we ought to do so ALL the time. Otherwise, we train ourselves and others to believe that intervention is always wrong, unless the circumstances are such that we will be quite safe, whether in real life, or behind an electronic screen.
We do not need any kind of bizarre, social vigilantism, in which we dash about spreading our jackets over mud puddles for perfect strangers or breaking up fights between drunken louts we see sprawling about in an alleyway. Yet we could make the effort to be a little bit braver, a little bit more conscious of those around us, particularly those in need of assistance. For while it is true that we must “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” it is also true that, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto Me.”