Jonathan's Blog

Right Before Getting Punched In The Face

Recently, I went to a local diner to write. I sat and wrote from midnight to 3am. Since Rochester is a college town, we have a lot of night-life, and apparently one of the local high schools had just had prom because at one point about 30 young high school students filled the restaurant, and they were all in dresses and tuxedos.

Later, once the prom crowd had left, I noticed two beautiful young ladies (16-18 years old perhaps) sitting at a booth eating. As I looked up from my computer about 15 minutes after they sat down, I saw a man in his mid to late twenties come over to their booth and begin to pester them. He wasn’t aggressive; in fact he was actually pretty smooth. He talked about how he is a part of a frat house and they should come party with him and his friends sometime. He invited his other three friends over to the girl’s booth and began to try to persuade the girls to go with him and his friends to the house that night (this went on for over 30 minutes).

One of the two girls allowed him to keep talking, but the other one showed that she was very uncomfortable and kept saying, “No thank you, we are not interested.”

Personally, I have determined that a part of my calling as a man is to be a protector.

I wrote about this in my book Eyes of Honor (Pages 204-205). So if I have an opportunity to step up and protect, I WILL take it. Also during high school I did four years of competitive martial arts, so I haven’t been able to put that to good use in a long time but I would get very Old Covenant if I needed to.

As I watched to see if I was needed, the lead guy finally snapped and just took a hold of both girls by a wrist each and began to tug them out of their booth. Finally my opening! I jumped up from my table and wedged myself between his arm and one of the girl’s wrists and commanded him to “Let go right now.” He let go and backed up, angry and startled. I turned to the girls and said are you okay? The one girl that had been more chatty responded, “Yeah…. We are okay, there’s no problem.” Obviously she was not in touch with reality, so I turned to the sensible girl and asked her if she was okay, and she said “No, we are not okay.” I turned back to the man who now had his three buddies standing next to him. So now I have 4 guys in their mid-twenties lined up within three feet of me and the two girls behind me, one out of touch with reality and the other that is quite frightened.

So realizing that I am perhaps about to have the fight of my life, I put my finger in the face of the lead guy and said “You get out of this restaurant RIGHT NOW or else!” Thinking that they would be intimidating to me, they were a bit startled by this. One of the other guys actually looked scared and put his hand on the leader’s shoulder and said, “I think we should go…”

Within a few minutes they had peeled out of the parking lot and I was sitting with the girls advising them about protecting themselves better and having a higher value for their self-worth. Then later I walked them to their car.

As my adrenaline decreased, I remembered a fascinating story I had read from Malcolm Gladwell:

Excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell, chapter 1 from The Tipping Point (2000)

Even the smallest and subtlest and most unexpected of factors can affect the way we act. One of the most infamous incidents in New York City history, for example, was the 1964 stabbing death of a young Queens woman by the name of Kitty Genovese. Genovese was chased by her assailant and attacked three times on the street, over the course of half an hour, as thirty-eight of her neighbors watched from their windows. During that time, however, none of the thirty-eight witnesses called the police. The case provoked rounds of self-recrimination. It became symbolic of the cold and dehumanizing effects of urban life. Abe Rosenthal, who would later become editor of the New York Times, wrote in a book about the case:
Nobody can say why the thirty-eight did not lift the phone while Miss Genovese was being attacked, since they cannot say themselves. It can be assumed, however, that their apathy was indeed one of the big-city variety. It is almost a matter of psychological survival, if one is surrounded and pressed by millions of people, to prevent them from constantly impinging on you, and the only way to do this is to ignore them as often as possible. Indifference to one's neighbor and his troubles is a conditioned reflex in life in New York as it is in other big cities.
This is the kind of environmental explanation that makes intuitive sense to us. The anonymity and alienation of big-city life makes people hard and unfeeling. The truth about Genovese, however, turns out to be a little more complicated and more interesting. Two New York City psychologists Bibb Latane of Columbia University and John Darley of New York University subsequently conducted a series of studies to try to understand what they dubbed the "bystander problem." They staged emergencies of one kind or another in different situations in order to see who would come and help. What they found, surprisingly, was that the one factor above all else that predicted helping behavior was how many witnesses there were to the event.
In one experiment, for example, Latane and Darley had a student alone in a room stage an epileptic fit. When there was just one person next door, listening, that person rushed to the student's aid 85 percent of the time. But when subjects thought that there were four others also overhearing the seizure, they came to the student's aid only 31 percent of the time. In another experiment, people who saw smoke seeping out from under a doorway would report it 75 percent of the time when they were on their own, but the incident would be reported only 38 percent of the time when they were in a group. When people are in a group, in other words, responsibility for acting is diffused. They assume that someone else will make the call, or they assume that because no one else is acting, the apparent problem the seizure-like sounds from the other room, the smoke from the door isn't really a problem. In the case of Kitty Genovese, then, social psychologists like Latane and Darley argue, the lesson is not that no one called despite the fact that thirty-eight people heard her scream; it's that no one called because thirty-eight people heard her scream. Ironically, had she been attacked on a lonely street with just one witness, she might have lived.
The key to getting people to change their behavior, in other words, to care about their neighbor in distress, sometimes lies with the smallest details of their immediate situation. The Power of Context says that human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem.

While I appreciate Gladwell’s observations. I would add a different angle.

I believe in making decisions about what type of person we are going to be. I am a protector.

When a situation presents itself, I will step up and put myself in harm’s way to protect. What if one of the 38 witnesses in Gladwell’s story had determined to always protect others?

I have a theory. Once a person takes on the role of standing up and protecting others, opportunities will abundantly present themselves.

The restaurant story is actually becoming a more common occurrence for me. Oddly enough it happened to me today.

As I was driving home from the store to write this very blog and thinking it through in my mind, I had a sudden urge to get an Arby’s Roast Beef Sandwich. My wife would say it was my stomach talking, but I am quite prophetic ;). Honestly, this was odd because I haven’t had anything from Arby’s in over a year at least.

As I pulled into the drive-through, I saw a young lady standing at the driver’s window of her car yelling across at someone in the passenger’s seat. Once I had circled the building I parked my car in the only open spot, which was kind of a weird angled spot about two car widths apart from her car but with nothing in between us (just grass).

From this spot I could see her inside the car and a young man sitting in the passengers seat; he was yelling, she was crying and yelling. They were both in their late teens or early twenties. As I was sitting there trying to determine if I should get involved or what I would even say, I saw him fake like he was going to hit her to cause her to flinch. Then she yelled some threat about how she was going to call 911. Well that was good enough for me.

I hopped out of my car looking quite intimidating with my shaved head and Aviator sunglasses on. I stepped around to her side of the car and yelled at him to be quiet. I put both of my hands on her car door and had her look at me and in my best cop impression; I asked her if he had laid a finger on her. She said no. I asked if she wanted me to call anyone to pick her up. She said no. I asked if there is anything else I could do to help her. She said no.

Although I wasn’t able to do as much in my experience today, I am pretty sure I scared that little punk. And maybe that’s good.

Ultimately here is this week’s point.

#1. Decide what type of person you are going to be.

#2. Know that once you make that choice, opportunities will present themselves, take those opportunities.

#3. Don’t wait for others. Be You Now. Somebodies life may depend on it.