When someone’s getting hurt, whose business is it?

On Jan. 28, a 15-year-old female was seen brutally beating another girl in the Seattle bus tunnel. The incident was captured on video by surveillance cameras. As shocking as this vicious attack was, the camera also revealed a different sort of disturbing behavior: unarmed security guards in yellow vests, standing and watching the beating — which continued with kicks to the head and the ribs after the victim was knocked to the ground.

The questions at hand are: How could these security guards stand there and do nothing? Why did they make no physical effort to stop the beating? How far would this attack have had to go before human decency would supersede the “rules of engagement” on which these security guards based their decision not to intervene and not to even attempt to restrain the teenage girl, so the beating would stop?

“On a human level, they certainly should have intervened. Everybody agrees on that,” stated Sgt. John Urquhart from the local sheriff department. “However, their role in the tunnel, what they’re trained to do, what they’re ordered to do, is to observe and report. In other words, not get involved. And that’s really very, very common with civilian security. Unfortunately, the public expects more.”

While one can argue that it is important to follow orders and abide by policies, there is something to be said for humane behavior, which includes empathy and concern for others. The guards acted callously and “just did their jobs.” How many of us could stand there, witness a teenager get punched in the face and ribs and do nothing? If we had been those guards, how many of us, fearing for our jobs, would have followed the company’s rules? Were all of the guards born callous, or were they carefully taught?

Statistics reveal that, with few exceptions, we are largely a society of bystanders. When we encounter psychologically or physically harmful situations, most of us choose to look the other way or wait for someone else to handle it, because of peer pressure, low self-esteem, embarrassment or simply not knowing what to do. Are we capable of redefining and improving our role as pro-social bystanders, a.k.a. “upstanders”?…