The Bystander

My family and I went on a trip to Vancouver. We walked on the beach, visited the aquarium, and hiked on several simple trails. My brother made me do a suspension bridge at a mountain peak, and I can still feel the swaying of the metal mesh if I think about it a lot. It was a fun vacation, and one filled with surprises.

While hiking in Lynn Canyon, some people were cliff diving. It’s exactly what it sounds like. That meant ignoring the signs that were placed every few feet warning people not to cliff dive because it’s very dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing and besides which this is a natural preserve. You can go down to the river though; my sister and I went to a shallow part of the river and enjoyed the water there for a short bit. 

Seeing adults jump or look down was one thing. While we went down a simple trail, however, we saw a group of boys make a thirty-foot dive into a deep part of the river. That part was definitely fenced off, and the fence overlooked a steep cliff. Some boys had already made the plunge; we saw one scream as he went down feet-first and not die in front of us, amazingly enough. He aimed for the deepest part of the pool.

One boy was dithering. He paced back and forth on a piece of the cliff. It was circular and smooth. He hadn’t taken off his shirt the way his friends had. They were down below, waving to him to jump and then swim to the rocks. Due to this boy seeing so close, I could ascertain his age better.

I was muttering under my breath, “Bro, don’t do it,” several times. My voice didn’t go up, though. I was watching in some fascinated horror. So was the crowd that had gathered to look. We crowded on a bridge.

His friend came back over the fence. He held a phone or camera. Irritation colored what I could see of his face.

“If you don’t jump, I’m cutting the feed!” he shouted.

The family made a decision. Everyone moved before this spectator session got much worse than it already was.  We kept looking over our shoulders. Eventually, we lost sight of them. I don’t think anyone died that day since I didn’t hear anything on my social media or on local Vancouver news.

I’ve been pondering it for a few weeks, and I don’t get why. Why do that? Unlike in the movies, water is not soft. With enough distance, you can injure yourself. The signs had statistics on how many people had died.

Bystander syndrome is a contested phenomenon. Many psychology textbooks cite that Kitty Genovese died because no one helped her. The Internet contests that she was helped, just by not enough people to save her. But it may explain why we all froze and watched.

Should we have interfered? I don’t know; it’s possible that the boys wouldn’t have listened. Mom tried to tell the ranger about a man jumping. Could we have dissuaded the boys from doing something so dangerous? Doubtful. Besides, offering help might have made things worse. The boy was getting shamed just for hesitating. Offering to pull him over the fence might have embarrassed him further.

All I know is I’m not going cliff-diving any time soon. Just seeing kids doing it was horrifying. Also, I’ll at least know what happens when you don’t know if you should interfere. The bystander effect may kick in and keep you from acting.


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