I’m not an avid television viewer these days, after decades of binge watching various series. On the occasion that I do tune in, one of the shows that taps on my social conscience is called What Would You Do? Host John Quinones is the behind the scenes host of this popular series that touches on all manner of human interactions. Those that have remained with me over the years include a girl on the street who appears drunk and is given even more alcohol by other kids, a bride trying on gowns, only to be asked to leave the store when the saleswoman discovers that she is marrying a woman, a person who steals from someone else at a food truck, a White woman being told in the primarily Black populated barber shop where her Black partner is getting a haircut that she shouldn’t be with him and a racist couple at a restaurant who make bigoted comments about an inter-racial relationship. At each turn, an unknowing person is observed around their interaction with the actors who are given a particular script to play out. The idea is to determine if they intervene in what might be considered unjust or ill-advised circumstances.
Predictably, some ‘mind their own business,’ fearing retribution, or that they might say something wrong. Others step right up and take charge, ushering the victim to safety, telling off the homophobic saleswoman, leading the intoxicated teen away from her ‘friends’, speaking out about people’s right to love whoever they choose, regardless of skin color. Quinones then comes out from behind the scenes and the players are surprised and sometimes shared their motivation for their choices. I found myself cheering for those who were willing to step out, being certain that I would be that courageous as well.
I have done so on several occasions. Twice, I spoke up when I heard parents in stores threatening to hit their children if they didn’t ‘behave’. Both times, I did so carefully, offering empathy for the parents, so as not to exacerbate the situation, since, if this is how they are in public, I could only imagine how they are in private. I let them know that I imagined they were having a rough day and didn’t really want to harm their children. Both times, the parents (one a mother and the other a father) acknowledged that. The difference between them was that he thanked me and she didn’t. A year later, I ran into the mother and daughter in the same store where the original altercation had taken place. The little girl recognized me and smiled shyly, but either the mother didn’t or pretended not to. As a mandated reporter, I am legally bound to report abuse and as a responsible human being, morally bound to intervene however I can.
There are some who don’t see it that way, thinking, as some did on the series, that they need to ignore what is going on right in front of them. I was taught to have a strong moral compass and a solid sense of social conscience. A few years ago, following a heart attack, I was attending cardiac rehab at the hospital where I had been treated. It is a smoke free campus, with signs posted all throughout. One a few visits, I saw folks smoking, one literally in front of the entrance. As politely as possible, I pointed to the signs and reminded them that there were those of us who were there for cardiac and respiratory conditions and need not be exposed to smoke (and the toxins contained therein). On all occasions, they stopped, When I got home, I posted something on social media about the interactions and some told me that I needed to be understanding, since, chances are, the people were dealing with stress. I volleyed back that even if that was so, there was a good reason why the campus was smoke free AND I questioned whether the patients they were visiting really needed to be hugged by someone who had residual smoke on their clothes. Clearly, this is a pet peeve. A few years earlier, when working at in patient psychiatric hospital, I observed ambulance drivers smoking. I was less circumspect with them. “Really? Here you are transporting folks with medical conditions and you are in close quarters with them after doing so.” What I didn’t do was contact the company to let them know and wished that I had.
Today, I read a post about a woman who was contemplating adopting a puppy whose people weren’t taking good care of her. She described them as “keeeping her in the basement and beating her when she peed on the floor.” I asked her if she had called the SPCA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) to report them. She answered that she wasn’t sure if it was abuse. Again, I was incredulous. I encouraged her, even if she was unable to take the puppy into her home, to protect her by making the call.
One of the things that remains with me is that if someone had intervened when my clients were being abused or neglected, rather than avoiding, or ignoring the traumatizing events, they might not have ended up in my office. I question the conscience of a anyone who take a none of my business stance when they can prevent pain and suffering.
What would you do?
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