“Honestly, Batman? I think I’m one of those innocent bystanders you see in the comics. I’m just a man from a crowd scene.” From Little Bee by Chris Cleaver

innocent bystanders

There are no innocent bystanders in the world, not really. Other human beings aren’t the background characters in your life. No one is an NPC.

Imagine this scene: I’m at the grocery store and a robbery is taking place. In a movie or a book (comic or otherwise), I’m not robbing the store and I’m not being robbed, so I’m a background character. I have no purpose other than to be there filling in the scene. My presence makes the story more exciting because the threat is to a larger group, the gun is swung around a crowd and everyone cowers, a person screams, a mother shields her child behind her. Unless the writer decides to pull one of those crowd members into the action, they just stand there making things visually interesting.

In reality, that isn’t the case. There is no writer. I have free will, a mind of my own, and the ability to take action in any scene I find myself in. In the grocery store robbery, I could have a gun of my own, special skills to talk the robber out of it. Maybe by some strange coincidence, I know the person robbing the store and when they see me, their heart changes in that moment. Or the robbery continues and I’m the one that throws myself in front of a child to protect them, or a take special care to get a close look at the person and I’m able to make a better report of who it was that caused the problem. The possibilities are endless.

Every day, we find ourselves in situations where we can make a difference. Every day we make the choice to act or sit by and watch. No, we can’t change the whole world. Most things are far out of our circle of influence. But we can’t sit and cry over what we can’t do. We must look for what we can. Where can I make a difference right now?

Years ago, I decided that my own family was my priority. Second in my life were the people that I see every day, friends, coworkers, and people around town. Third are the projects, people, and causes outside my immediate reach. This is how I have made choices and lived my life. It has served me well.

There are times when I feel like maybe I should do more. There are times when I wish to hell I could do more. If I only had more money, more energy, more power, I could fix this for someone. When I go back to my principles, I know that I cannot and if I try, I end up making things worse for everyone involved.

But if I’m there, I’m not an innocent bystander. If something is wrong, I say so. If someone needs help, I do my best to provide what I can. That does not include the internet and social media exchanges most times. Those inventions, while doing a world of good at increasing our awareness of the world and our circle of influence, are torturing our consciousness at the same time. A human only has so many resources and we each need to focus our efforts.

Read the previous post inspired by this book, “Little Bee: Ordered and Antiseptic”