A Deeper Look at Bystander Behavior

You see a situation that bothers you and you wonder if you should do something.  You are now having the experience of being a “bystander.”  Where does this desire to act come from?  To answer this question, we must ask yet another question – a question that is often overlooked because we think that we know the answer.  “Who am I?”  In other words, to know where our deepest impulses come from – our desire to help others, to do the “right thing”, to not be a bystander, and in many cases, to go against what we have been taught from parents, family and culture – we must look deep within ourselves to seek their origin.

We are more than our bodies, emotions and thoughts.  When I see someone that needs help, and my body moves into action, I have feelings about what I am seeing, and thoughts about what I should do.  But the impulse itself – to do something, to help, to care – where does it come from?  Is it a learned behavior, or is it something innate?  Wherever it comes from, it requires that we notice it and that we listen to it.  Our emotional, mental and spiritual health requires that we come to terms with it.

Personally, we would answer the question by saying that we are complex beings with two aspects.  One is what we could call “soul” or “higher self” and the other is our “everyday personality” or “lower self.”   There is something in us that transcends all that we know that comes from the space-time world that we live in and there is an everyday personality that vacillates, worries what others will think, and can’t always decide if it should act. 

Another way to answer the question is to say that we have “core values” or a “conscience” overlaid by a set of learned behaviors and habits.  However we answer the question – and it is the question of a lifetime – we can agree that there is something inside us that goes deeper than the surface and that it demands our attention, recognition, and cooperation.  If everyone lived by this inner imperative the world would truly be a different place.  And if we live by this imperative, we can help to transform the world into the world that we would like it to be, a world that lives by and expresses the deeper values and “soulful” qualities that are our human birthright.

One can even say that when I do not listen to and act on my deeper values that I am being “a bystander to myself.”

We encourage all of you who read this to incorporate into your lifestyle practices of self-inquiry and self-knowledge, whatever they may be.  It could be making a time for quiet reflection each day, journaling, a meditation practice, or being alone in nature.  Whatever it is, it should be something that helps you to dig deeper into yourself, to get to know the unknown within, and to find the place where our desire to help comes from.

We encourage you to spend some time getting to know this deeper person, to disconnect from the outer, the everyday, from the distractions and from the myriad of things that continually grab our attention and pull it outside -- away from the inside.  We are sure that if you got to know this person, you will like her or him.

Have a wonderful journey.

Alan and Gran Beatriz Berkowitz are both psychologists with an interest in the spiritual dimension of human behavior and in their work teach others to apply values, ideals and spiritual ideas to daily life.  Together they are writing a book on bystander behavior that will explore these themes.  Gran Beatriz and Alan live in Mt Shasta, California.   For more information on their work and activities go to or

Tags: Bystander Intervention, Everyone