The Omaha say :He who is present at a wrongdoing and does not lift a hand to prevent it is as guilty as the wrongdoers. How does this proverb speak to the nature of character?
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Doing nothing is just as wrong as doing something. If you see something bad happen and you do nothing about it, you show profound selfishness. Selflessness is the key to good character. People who care about others will interfere when they see injustice. People who are too afraid show weakness that comes from selfishness. This is why good character means doing the right thing no matter what.
It is interesting to apply this statement to massive injustices such as the Polish, German and Czech citizens (among other countries) who watched their Jewish friends and neighbours being carted off without any form of resistance. According to the proverb you have quoted, that would make them just as equally culpable as the Nazi soldiers themselves.
We all seem to agree that by not doing something we can be just as guilty of doing something. I often use this as an example when talking to my teen daughters. If the people you are with are doing something inappropriate, you will be just as guilty if you do not do something to stop them or at least get away from the situation.
I think it speaks to the general insecurity of humans. I frequently spoke on this very platform as a teacher because obviously, we see it everyday in our classrooms. If 20% of a class is "chit-chatting" for example, while a teacher is presenting, it puts the teacher in an awkward position. 20% of the class is enough to be distracting. It is almost too much to call out individuals though, and not enough to call out an entire class. It would be far better for the others in the 80% to ask or send a signal to someone near them to stop talking.
In this situation, I most often find myself calling out the entire class. In response, I often get groans of, "Hey, don't yell at us, we were being quiet." Fear of teacher by association with the talking kids, fear of peers by direct association with the teacher.
It speaks to human insecurity. It is always easier to blend in with the majority than to do something obviously wrong or obviously right.
Having character starts with knowing right from wrong, but is as much about knowing as it is about how that knowledge is acted upon. There are so many literary references to this. I immediately think of The Scarlet Letteror the short story, "The Lottery." I also just remembered that there is a news television show on currently where the premise is to have actors create a scene of terrible behavior and then they film the reaction and interventions (or lack thereof) of the bystanders. The scenarios are things like a parent going off on a child in a store, a drunk parent trying to get their children in a car to drive away, a child verbally abusing a babysitter in a restaurant with comments that abuse their servile position etc. It is very interesting to see who steps in and how. The show's host will later come out to reveal that it was a set-up and talk to the people who intervened. It is very interesting to see what motivates some and not others. The name of the show is "What would YOU do?"
That statement reminds me a bit about the 'mob mentality' I just posted about in another discussion topic. Social scientists predict that many people will take on the behavior of the majority of the group at a certain time, though this doesn't always mean that it may be anything particularly violent or deadly going on.
Also, there has been a lot of discussion in the media about "bystanders guilt or guilty bystanders." Many people have become so afraid to get involved, they ignore serious wrongdoings going on around them.
Of course, as each individual case is examined, there will be some people who will be more compelled and driven for whatever reasons, to always protect others, speak up, and do the lawfully right thing.
Showing good character includes speaking up whenever an injustice occurs. This means that if we see it and do nothing about it we are showing weakness of character. It's like the old saying, "If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem."
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