I planned the ~concept~ for this post back in November when this little encounter happened to me on the train and I tweeted it. In the last tweet of the thread I said ‘british public: stop being too scared to get involved / ‘stick your nose in’ when you can see anyone is being harassed or heckled.’ And that’s when this post idea was born.
I toyed with the idea of it for a good while, as you can tell by it taking four months, and I decided to get rid of it because something about it cringed me out. Then I read it today when going through my blog post ideas / plan list to decide which to write for Wednesday’s post, and thought that it was worth chatting about. The fact that it cringed me out is all the more reason to discuss it. Us Brits are known for being a bit too polite, not wanting to intrude in anyone else’s business and happy to keep to ourselves – so much so that the thought of sticking our nose into other people’s business, even for good reason, can make us cringe.
Of course I don’t mean start invading in Jenny from work’s private life and eavesdropping on her conversations in the break room to hear about her latest Tinder date when it really doesn’t concern you. I mean when it is justifiable and for good reason. And this definitely spreads beyond British people, but being British and knowing that we have this overly-polite culture where we are too scared to get involved in something that doesn’t concern us, it’s the context I want to use.
Being on a packed out Brighton to Southampton train at 6PM, still part of peak time rush hour, a train that stops at basically every little town on the south coast between these two cities, you would think that if a carriage full of people witnesses a grown, drunk man harassing a young woman at least one person would say something. Perhaps this is the problem, we think that out of all these many people at least one has gotta say something, right? So everyone thinks that someone else will do it and this is why they don’t do it themselves. What was even worse about this situ was that the guy was asking them a question about me, albeit a petty one, and passengers were responding to him. They were really answering yes or no to his question. Not one of them told him to calm down or leave me alone or anything along those lines. Whilst I didn’t feel like he was going to attack me or put me in any real danger, I felt extremely uncomfortable and didn’t want to say something to him because he was drunk, much older and bigger than me and I was on my own lugging a big handbag and luggage around. I couldn’t exactly make a quick getaway if he started getting even more angry with me.
I got myself out of the situation, as you’ve probably now read in that lil thread. The thing is, I don’t feel like I should’ve had to get myself out of that situation. I did nothing wrong. It’s a shame that we have this way of life where we will let someone who is not in the wrong, who feels uncomfortable in a situation but not through their own fault, be the one who has to go out of their way to leave the situation rather than getting the person in the wrong to leave. And my experience was not that deep at all, I just felt very uncomfortable and vulnerable because I was the youngest person on that carriage by years, surrounded by people coming home from a day of work who were probably around my parents’ age, give or take. These people probably have kids of their own, kids ranging anywhere from a few months old to in their twenties. How can you, as a parent, witness this happen to a young woman who is young enough to be your daughter and just turn a blind eye?
My assumption that all of these people must be parents just because they’re middle aged on their way home from work is just an assumption, based on a stereotype of what you expect someone of that age travelling home from a proper job (ykno, not just like my old Saturday retail job) and I’m sure that not all of these people had kids. But, removing this assumption and going back to my previously asked question. How can you turn a blind eye to this – especially if you have a kid who could easily be in my position? Because you’re too scared to stick your nose in other people’s business is my guess, a good guess at that.
Lets say x person sat opposite me was a mum of two, her oldest in uni (I feel like if these passengers were to make their own general assumption of me based on the age I look and the fact that I had a luggage with me, it’d be that I’m a student travelling either to or from uni) and her youngest having just started Sixth Form. Let’s say she was on a train home from a fun day in Brighton with her daughter and her daughter was sat opposite and they didn’t realise that it was going to be an older, drunk guy sat next to her. And they certainly didn’t realise he was going to start verbally harassing her about petty little things. There are no other seats on the carriage, it’s rush hour. They don’t have the option to just move a few rows up. Let’s say her daughter is in the exact same situation as I was, except she has her mother sat opposite her. Without a shadow of a doubt, her mum would say something and step in to defend and/or save her daughter from this literal fucking weirdo. But because I was not her daughter, I was nothing to do with her, merely a stranger on a train, instead of trying to defend me she goes along with the drunk guy. When he asks the other passengers if it’s rude that I’m not allowing him to see what I’m doing on my phone, she gives him a yes or no answer. She enables him, she makes him feel like he has a right to be questioning this if it’s worthy of an answer. If nobody is stopping him, he feels like it’s an acceptable thing to do to a young women travelling alone with a hell of a lot of stuff compared to everyone else with their standard laptop bags.
It comes back to that lesson we are taught in school, don’t be a bystander. I don’t know about your school, but almost everywhere I’ve been we are taught from a young age to not to just stand by and watch someone get bullied. We can step in, or if it seems too dangerous to do so we can go and get a teacher to step in for us. So why do we struggle to do this in the real world? Why can’t we stand up for someone, or go get someone authoritative like the train conductor or whatever those people are who come to check your tickets?
When we lived in Australia, I remember an elderly man fell over outside the big supermarket in my suburb. Very busy area, and this was literally right outside the supermarket with windows in the entire shop front. Everyone outside the shop and the surrounding area and everyone inside the shop witnessed it. Nobody did anything. Everyone collectively held their breath as the man fell, and then once he was on the floor they carried on with their lives, maybe giving the odd few glances over in disbelief. My mum went over to help him. I am so glad this is the example being set for me and the way I have subconsciously been raised. Also, this supports the it’s-not-just-a-British-thing argument.
I understand full well that it can seem intimidating to stick your nose in when it’s a bit of a threatening situation, you’re scared someone will transfer their anger for the person you’re debating defending onto you if you step in and try to stop them. But are you just going to stand by and watch someone else, especially someone more vulnerable, be subjected to this harassment because you’re too scared to be subject to it yourself.
In the case of the man falling over, I know it didn’t happen in Britain which doesn’t support the title of this blog post, but if something like this happens and you can just walk past without helping then you are the worst type of person. If you really absolutely cannot stop because you are in a rush to go see your wife give birth or attend a funeral or a wedding (though people at these two events, for want of a better word, should understand if you’re late tbh) then ok, you’re let off the hook just a bit. But if you see something bad happening to someone else and there is absolutely zero risk posed to you for getting involved and offering to help them and you choose not to, you need to re-evaluate this part of yourself. Even if you offer help and they refuse it, you’ve done the right thing and done all that you can.
Please, when you can see that someone is in distress or is hurt or is being harassed and nobody else is helping them, be that one person everyone thinks will inevitably step in. Stick your nose in other people’s business if it’s to help them out. Don’t use the excuse of ‘it’s nothing to do with me’ if you see someone being bullied, someone injured or unwell, someone struggling with something. Offer to help. Go and get someone with authority to deal with it. Do something. Stick your nose in.
When I moved carriages after staging a phone call with my mum in which we pretended she called to tell me that she was also on my train but a few carriages down and that I should move there, I finally found a seat a couple of carriages down. After struggling with my mum on the other end of the line, speaking through the mic on my earphones whilst I had my phone in my pocket, trying to carry my bulky heavy luggage through the narrow path between seats, with my stuffed handbag falling off my shoulder and down to my wrist, I sat down just a bit flustered and upset and annoyed with tears in my eyes (yeah, I had been scared and distressed, and I had to have a tiny lil release moment. You could see on my face that I was distressed, so I can’t imagine how distressed I must’ve looked sat next to this drunk older man whilst he heckled me) the woman sitting opposite me in my new seat asked if I was ok. I said yes, I just had to move from someone stupid in a different carriage. She said something about how that was horrible and a couple more times throughout the journey she asked again if I was alright. This is the type of person we should all be. Man do I wish she had been in that previous carriage with me.
I know my tale is very minor, but if this is how bad I felt I can only imagine how it feels to be in a much more distressing situation, feeling even more vulnerable, with even more people around you actively watching and listening but doing nothing because they don’t want to stick their nose in your business. Please, do not be this awful bystander. It’s time to erode this culture of not wanting to involve yourself in something that has nothing to do with you when it can really help or save someone from an awful situation. It’s time to stick your nose in other people’s business.