The Half Hour That Changed Me


By Heather Peterson


Imagine that you are sitting in a room taking a test, and you begin to smell smoke. It confuses you a little bit, but you don’t give it much thought. A few minutes later you glance at the classroom door to see smoke sneaking in through the crack at the bottom. You look around uneasily for a while, wondering if anyone else sees it. The smoke is now completely noticeable. Surely someone will get up and head towards an exit? Wrong. Not one student makes a noise as they continue to work diligently on their tests.

How long would it take you to stand and call attention to this potentially dangerous situation? Any sensible human being would let everyone know quickly, right?

If you’ve ever walked down a school hallway with me, you might have seen me pick up a piece of trash or two. You probably didn’t give it a second thought, because it doesn’t seem like a big deal. To me, it means a lot more than keeping the halls of Westlake clean.

During the month of June, Student Council had the opportunity to go to a leadership camp at Utah State University, called USULC. During this camp we learned many things that make great leaders. What stood out to me wasn’t the team building activities or the planning sessions, it was learning about The Bystander Effect.

A similar study on the reactions to a spontaneous fire titled, “Dangerous Conformity,” explained how bystanders have to choose whether or not to take action during events with high stakes. In this study, it took the clueless test subject a whopping 20 minutes of sitting silently before anything happened to prevent the “fire.” The study explained how every other test subject had been instructed to act as if nothing was wrong, ignoring the smoke and even the triggered fire alarm. The Bystander Effect shows that it is difficult for humans to take initiative when they have the mentality that someone else will take care of the problem.

It blew my mind! I couldn’t believe that a person would risk losing their life because they felt the need to conform with the unrealistic standards of others. It got me thinking about all the times when I let things slip by, telling myself that others would eventually take care of an issue or do a better job than I could do.

How silly is that? Pushing aside something important by giving irrelevant excuses. After that class at USU I decided that I would try my best to not let myself be a bystander. It’s taken time, failed attempts, and set backs, but I want to be the one person who takes risks and chances. We never know when our actions could save us or others.

You are capable of being so much more than a bystander, and the world is out there just waiting for you! Use your life to your advantage. Don’t let the Bystander Effect affect you!