This week, I saw a drunk steal a bike in the middle of the city.
I noticed him as I got off the tram. He was young, slightly staggering and drinking from a bottle in a brown paper bag in the middle of the day.
I kept my eye on him in an effort to prevent our paths from crossing. I saw him eyeing off bikes, checking to see whether they were locked up. And then, bingo. He found one leaning against a tree and quickly looked around before jumping on it amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy Melbourne street.
I was a couple of metres away from him. I could have called out to him, but I wasn’t overly keen on confronting him, especially being physically smaller than him and six months pregnant. I could have recruited someone else to do so, but I didn’t. I did try to take a photo of him on my mobile phone, but he got away too quickly.
And then, I just kept walking.
I didn’t even call the cops to report it or wait and try to locate the owner of the bike to explain what had happened.
I’ve learned all about the bystander effect – where witnesses stand idly by without attempting to help, a phenomenon that increases the more witnesses there are – in Psychology 101. I just never thought I’d be the one standing idly by.
I don’t know whether it’s the flow-on effect of having watched too many superhero movies, but I guess I expected better of myself.
And I was totally put to shame when I saw that a pregnant woman a week or so off giving birth stopped and saved another woman, a stranger, who was locked in a car and being assaulted by her partner late at night.
You can watch the entire story, shown on The Project, here:
Her bravery and selflessness allowed this woman to escape an assault that could have left her badly injured, or worse.
I desperately hope I would have helped in those circumstances.
Of the bike incident, maybe if the stakes were higher, I would have helped. Maybe I had already decided the owner should have taken some precautions and locked up the bike. Maybe, having just caught an elderly man who was falling over on the tram, I felt that my civic duty for the day was done.
Honestly, I don’t know whether I’d act differently if it happened again. I’m not sure I’d want to put myself in a potentially violent situation for the sake of a stranger’s bike.
I just hope that if it ever came to a person being harmed, I’d be courageous enough to potentially put myself in harm’s way.
But I hope more that I never have to find it out.