If you come around here much, you know that a week ago I witnessed a man become physically violent toward his girlfriend. I chose to intervene, talking the man down and defraying the situation.
Several of my readers (love you guys!) gave me high praise for my effort, but somehow, it did not feel deserved.
The truth is after the event was over I was unable to sleep all night. Not because of an adrenaline high. I actually didn’t feel that good about what I’d done. Instead I spent the rest of the night analyzing a simple question:
What could I have done differently?
More Than “All You Could”
One commenter pointed out that what I had done sounded an awful lot like my working definition of heroism:
A hero is someone who takes extraordinary personal risk to help others, with no personal stake.
…but I did not do anything heroic. At first it was hard to say why I feel this way. I did take risk: the man could have attacked me. And I had no personal stake in the issue; they were strangers and I could easily have kept walking toward home.
After a lot of thought, this is the missing ingredient:
I don’t believe I helped.
Yes, I stopped the woman from being hit that particular night. But that is not where an abusive relationship ends. To be safe, she needs to exit the relationship, and that is a decision she has to make for herself.
Likewise, the man needs to reconsider the way he treats women, not for one night but in general.
Ultimately both of them are in an unhealthy pattern. Until one or both of them breaks that pattern, there is not going to be any actual improvement in their lives. I admonished him for 4 minutes, but she is no safer than she was before.
Many people have told me “you did everything you could.” But in my heart I felt there is more I could have done. I just didn’t know what it might be.
I asked my teacher how I could have handled it. He listened to my story without judgment, but with a look of concern on his face. When I finished he said:
“I’m glad you are okay. Did you have a phone on you?”
I frowned. I thought he was going to say I should have called the police. I mentally prepared my objections. “Yes,” I said, “but–“
“Does your phone have a camera?”
Imagine this for a moment. What if, instead of physically interposing myself between this couple–a high-risk, confrontational move—I had simply opened up my phone, stood near them, and said loudly, “I’m recording this.”
I did the right thing by choosing to intervene. I stopped the immediate threat, and let her know she was not alone.
But if I had pulled out a camera, it would have been less provocative. The chance of him hurting me, her, or someone else would have been lower. And maybe, suddenly realizing he is on film—that this could be on Youtube for all his family to see, or used as evidence at a trial—maybe he would have thought of the consequences. Of the true meaning of his actions. It could have been a learning moment.
Would he have? What do you think?
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