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The man on the ledge is named Dylan Yount.
January 5, 2013 1:45 PM   Subscribe

From the street 100 feet below the ledge, the man barely seems real. He is nondescript, nothing more than white skin with a mild tan, a fit build, and shaggy blond hair. He is a faceless blur. He is anonymous, but will be defined by his final act. SF Weekly chronicles the life of a man whose suicide was cheered on by onlookers and captured by social media.
posted by desjardins (77 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was trying to search (with no success!) the psychological phenomenon that causes crowds to egg on would-be suicidal jumpers. I suppose the reason is irritation and impatience.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:53 PM on January 5, 2013


Too many brogrammers, not enough hippies.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:02 PM on January 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


People are hell.
posted by incandissonance at 2:10 PM on January 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


I was trying to search (with no success!) the psychological phenomenon that causes crowds to egg on would-be suicidal jumpers.

That's a thing? Ugh. So horrible.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:15 PM on January 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Damn, is it always going to be like this with people?
posted by Burhanistan at 2:15 PM on January 5, 2013


Raymond sensed that same insecurity another time, when he teased Dylan about how small his bong was — "You call that a bong?" They laughed about it. But the next time Raymond came over, "there was a huge bong sitting there."

Brothers and sisters, remember that there's no happiness in buying bigger and bigger bongs. The only "bong" that's really worth having... is love. Tell someone you know that you love them today.
-xBZ69x
posted by xBongzilla69x at 2:21 PM on January 5, 2013 [29 favorites]


Léon: Always like this.
posted by Morvran Avagddu at 2:21 PM on January 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:23 PM on January 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


.
posted by limeonaire at 2:32 PM on January 5, 2013


I can't bring myself to read beyond the first page. The fact that so many people could be so cruel, so heartless, as to egg him on, and other people laughed... it does my head in.

A notorious household-name Australian paedophile committed suicide recently, which was a great relief to a hell of a lot of people. But if I had seen Dennis Ferguson on a ledge, I couldn't even yell for him to jump even though I'd be desperately hoping he would. I must be too soft.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:40 PM on January 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Humane is not soft.
posted by notreally at 2:44 PM on January 5, 2013 [15 favorites]


I was trying to search (with no success!) the psychological phenomenon that causes crowds to egg on would-be suicidal jumpers.

I don't understand the crowd psychology either. Few if any people would mock and taunt a man on a ledge if they were the only witness. Is it having an audience before which to show off your cleverness that gives some people an incentive to do it? Is it the anonymity they hide behind? Both? What?

I understand this much. Public suicide attempts are stressful for everyone nearby. It is not entirely without reason that onlookers would be annoyed at a man on a ledge. If it was not the case that most would-be jumpers are suffering from acute episodes of mental illness and/or extreme personal tragedy I would call them selfish and deserving of mockery.

But jumpers are suffering. They are at their most vulnerable and impulsive, on the brink of an irrevocable choice which they might not make five minutes later. How do you see a person in that kind of shape and think it would be fun to tweak that guy? What's wrong with people?

For that matter, why was Dylan Yount on that ledge? By all accounts he was a great guy who was doing well with his life and outwardly happy. He had no prior history of mental illness. Why?

None of the people in this story make any sense at all to me, and none of them will ever explain themselves to me because the cowardly hecklers are keeping quiet and Dylan is needlessly, pointlessly dead.

.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:44 PM on January 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


In some fairness, there's a much higher proportion of lunatics loitering around Market Street/TL area.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:47 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Forty years ago my father talked a man down from a bridge. It was one of the most intense yet proudest moments of his life, and something that I'm just in awe of. I've thought many times about what I would do if (god forbid) I found myself in a similar situation. I simply cannot understand that the world contains people who wouldn't at least TRY to help a fellow human being in their time of greatest need. Just heartbreaking.
posted by violinflu at 2:49 PM on January 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


I was trying to search (with no success!) the psychological phenomenon that causes crowds to egg on would-be suicidal jumpers.

I'm not sure about egging on specifically, but the "sociopsychological phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction when others are present" is well-documented and known as diffusion of responsibility, aka the bystander effect, or Genovese syndrome.

Interestingly enough, people imagine what would have happened if they were there and picture themselves doing something heroic. But the facts show that is usually not the case, especially when large groups of people are present.
posted by phaedon at 2:58 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, I recall reading a theory that people who imagine or picture themselves in heroic situations are more likely to be that person if/when they find themselves in such a situation. This, maybe?
posted by eviemath at 3:03 PM on January 5, 2013


I only read enough of the article to try to find a date that was old enough to let me think "well, yeah, they used to do stuff like that, but not these days".

*sigh*
posted by benito.strauss at 3:03 PM on January 5, 2013


Any MeFites reading this, have you ever egged on somebody who was standing on a ledge like this? Were you one of the particular people in this crowd who yelled "jump" or something similar?
posted by univac at 3:05 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I doubt anyone would admit that. Personally, I hoped the people who egged this guy on would be identified and publicly shamed.
posted by desjardins at 3:15 PM on January 5, 2013


I spend quite a bit of time in this area and it doesn't surprise me a bit.

I'm kinda wondering...don't we have to look at the jumper's choices a bit too? He was standing atop a building next to an area that is transpo/shopping/tourism/drug-score/mental-health-challenge central. A highly anonymous, pretty cynical scene. He could have done what he did completely in private, but made this choice instead.
posted by telstar at 3:17 PM on January 5, 2013


According to one suicide expert I have heard (Kay Jameson) it would help a lot if we all honestly discussed the phenomenon of suicide a lot more openly and honestly than we do. Some of the eggers probably have secondhand experience of a suicide which would inhibit this behavior if they gave it two seconds of thought. I have suicide in my family and in my friend zone and if the subject is discussed it is discussed hushedly for ten seconds right after and then that person is hardly ever spoken of again.
posted by bukvich at 3:18 PM on January 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm kinda wondering...don't we have to look at the jumper's choices a bit too?

Not so much his choices per se but their effect on the crowd. A guy in his underwear, making a spectacle of himself? Maybe he was high on drugs, looking desheveled? Certainly a lot of people make fun of people nodding off in public.

How many people stop when they walk by a homeless person asking for change and offer to help turn their life around?

Hell, here in LA there was a story last week about some guy who lit a homeless woman on fire, almost killing her. It's not just people laughing at or ignoring a person in need of help, sometimes members of the public become perpetrators of anonymous aggression.
posted by phaedon at 3:24 PM on January 5, 2013


David McRaney, on the You Are Not So Smart blog, includes several examples in his article on deindividuation, though does not name the specific phenomenon.
posted by BrashTech at 3:29 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


He was standing atop a building next to an area that is transpo/shopping/tourism/drug-score/mental-health-challenge central.

Well, he did live there. It's not like he went out of his way to find the most visible building.
posted by desjardins at 3:29 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


What a heartbreaking (and really well-written) story. Does anyone know why it's coming to light now, three years later? Just curious.

I've experienced bystander mentality a few times (albeit on a significantly lesser scale), and the loneliness it creates can be breathtaking. Many years ago I was walking across the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal in NYC when my knee gave out; it just unlocked completely (torn MCL and meniscus). I screamed and started crying and hyperventilating, leaning against a wall so I wouldn't fall down. Not a single person stopped to see if I was OK, or offer help. The pure absence of humanity in such a crowded space was terrifying.

Yes, there are psychological and sociological reasons why people do or don't do certain things (from the bystanders to Dylan himself). But calling out "Jump!" to a man on a ledge is just heinous on so many levels. What the hell is wrong with us?

.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 3:31 PM on January 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


My boss hung himself at the place I work. he had been depressed and despondent for weeks, I was basically keeping the shop alive while he wallowed in his despair.

He had counseling, a loving wife, and a problem with substance abuse. We talked all week about his crushing, and I do mean crushing, depression. I kept encouraging him to take some time off and sort things out with aforementioned counselor and his wife etc. I even got laughs out of him in the "lighten up Francis" type of way.

We had talked through these events before, he knew he had people that wanted him around and cared.

Some people just jump.
posted by Max Power at 3:37 PM on January 5, 2013 [18 favorites]


There has been at least one psych study about this phenomenon. The blog I link below calls it suicide baiting. There's also a link to the study, but it is behind a paywall. (Not that I really wanted to read it, but since people asked upthread if there is a name to this, I feel the comment is justified.)
In his analysis of 21 cases of attempted and successful suicides by jumping where a crowd was present, Leon Mann found that baiting occurred in half the cases. He analyzed the various factors and concluded that crowd size, temperature and frustation of the crowd played a role. (source)

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posted by tykky at 3:43 PM on January 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


> I screamed and started crying and hyperventilating, leaning against a wall so I wouldn't fall down. Not a single person stopped to see if I was OK, or offer help.

This is a well-known phenomenon, and it doesn't say bad things about people.

The trouble is that they don't know what the right behavior is - do you want to be left alone? Do you need help?

If you need help, just address any one person specifically and ask for help - someone will almost certainly help you. New Yorkers are actually pretty decent...

As for the scum calling on the poor man to jump and laughing, well, they're scum. And if you confront them, they'll get hostile and aggressive.

My response these days when I see someone doing something egregiously anti-social in a crowd is a bit cowardly, but very effective - I to throw a penny at them, hard (from behind of course). There's no chance of actually inuring them, my aim is very good, and it seems to stop people dead. Strangely, they never even look around to see who did it (of course, I'm not going to claim responsibility).

If everyone did them when some loser started yelling "Jump!" then said loser would retire post-haste in a hail of pennies.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:47 PM on January 5, 2013 [27 favorites]


Are the jump hecklers motivated to yell because it doesn't seem real while the person is on the ledge? It's a stranger up there, far away where they can't see his expression or the pain in his eyes, like a scene from a bad TV show. I assume they think it's just "some nut" trying to get attention who will eventually be coaxed back inside. I'd like to think that the second Dylan stepped off that ledge they suddenly realized it wasn't a game to be taken lightly and that they had made a horrible error in judgement. I really hope that's the case. It's in no way an excuse for their horrific behavior, but it might be an explanation. I'd prefer to believe that those people would not still commit to the sickening "jump!" mentality if they knew what the outcome would be.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 3:59 PM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is horrible. I can't believe there are people who would egg him on to jump.

I'm also really curious about the lawsuit -- I hope the cops who were overlooking it had some kind of repercussion.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:02 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a thing? Ugh. So horrible.

Yes, it is, and I don't think it is caused by so-called "diffusion of responsibility". I think sometime in the last 5 years or so someone was threatening to jump from the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver. The bridge, a major artery in Vancouver, had to be shut down, causing gridlock in the downtown core and the North Shore.

So people, who were patient if not sympathetic for the first five or ten minutes, quickly started urging the jumper to get it over with (so they could go on their way). Luckily, the jumper was talked down.

So yeah, this is a thing.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:05 PM on January 5, 2013


> Are the jump hecklers motivated to yell because it doesn't seem real while the person is on the ledge?

No, they do it because they want to see someone die in front of them, so they can tell friends and for their personal excitement.

4% of Americans are psychopaths, and an undetermined number of other people aren't clinical psychopaths but really don't care if strangers live or die. In a crowd of a few hundred people, that's a couple of dozen individuals who yell, "Jump", and mean it.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:08 PM on January 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


It strikes me that we need to come up with some positive chant that people in crowds can start in this sort of situation. Crowds are very malleable - if even a few people started to chant, "Please don't do it" then it make make a big difference.

But "please don't do it" isn't quite right. What about Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "Relax don't do it/When you want to go to it"? Almost....?

(I really liked the guy singing "All You Need Is Love" in that clip we saw here a few weeks ago but it's not right... for one, a lot of people contemplating suicide are doing so precisely because they need love.)

Ideas, please?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:13 PM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or just "Relax, don't do it"?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:14 PM on January 5, 2013


Something I experienced that was not about suicide: I was in DC for work (I travel once a year for an event) and going for a little walk before getting the metro to the airport. Up ahead of me a block away I could see that someone was stretched on the sidewalk. At first I thought it must be someone who was a sidewalk artist, as they appeared to be stretched out in a funny way. This was on a crowded street in DC, near a big convention center and a couple of museums.

I got closer and I saw that it was a small older black woman - maybe 65 - in Sunday clothes and a hat, sort of lying there, and people were just passing by. When I got there I asked her if she needed help, and she said that her leg had given out, and could I help her up? No one else stopped. I tried to help her up, but she couldn't move enough and I wasn't strong enough to really leverage her up. We would have been stuck except for a group of three or four black women about my age who did stop and helped me get her standing. She said that she could walk now, that her leg just sometimes didn't work right. I walked along with her for a little while until I was sure that she was at least stable to continue, as did the other women.

I also have a friend who passed out from heatstroke on the bike path, fell off his bike - and just lay there in the sun until he luckily regained consciousness. He's just a young guy - but he is biracial and would be read by many white people as black.

I cannot help but think that the perceived social vulnerability and social "worth" of people in trouble influences how willing people are to stop.

I also admit that I have sometimes been uncertain of how to act in a given situation with strangers. However, what has helped me - and what would probably make a great curriculum piece in school - was scaffolding. When I saw that woman and saw no one helping her, I had already at other times asked myself what I should do if I saw someone who was not being helped. I had also thought through "I bet white people are less likely to stop and help people of color, so I will be hyper vigilant to make sure that I do not act this way". I had already prepared myself - scaffolded my response - so that I was able to act when other people were probably confused and had not examined any of the racist conditioning that we pick up.

My point isn't "hooray, Frowner is a special snowflake who helps the helpless" but rather "Frowner is pretty much like everyone else, which suggests that preparation can cut down on deindividuation".
posted by Frowner at 4:29 PM on January 5, 2013 [41 favorites]


.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:38 PM on January 5, 2013


lupus_yonderboy: Third Eye Blind, "Jumper"
posted by nicebookrack at 4:52 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Perhaps "We want you to live" would work as a chant. Turn the social pressure around.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:01 PM on January 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


lupus_yonderboy: Dang, I know exactly the feeling. A crowd is filled with people ready to do something together, but most of them have nothing specific in mind — kind of like a cloud saturated with moisture, ready to condense around the least seed. If someone can provide a kind seed they'll come together on that.

Frowner: A lot of us were also raised with the message to always "notify the proper authorities". It takes some years of experience, and some thinking things through (your "scaffolding") to change that to where your impulse is to move towards the person having a problem.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:11 PM on January 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


How many people stop when they walk by a homeless person asking for change and offer to help turn their life around?

Interestingly, the victim in this story was just such a peron.
posted by odinsdream at 5:23 PM on January 5, 2013


4% of Americans are psychopaths, and an undetermined number of other people aren't clinical psychopaths but really don't care if strangers live or die.

You're linking to a book about sociopathy but talking about psychopathy. They're not the same thing.
posted by threeants at 5:25 PM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


WE want YOU to LIVE!

Chants well, easy to remember, falls off the tongue nicely.

Noted.

I should add that my father used to check passed out people in the street to make sure that they were breathing and actually drunk, not sick (they were drunk every time, so he left them alone). A coach in his high school died of insulin shock and everyone thought he was drunk, so my father always remembered...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:26 PM on January 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


> You're linking to a book about sociopathy but talking about psychopathy. They're not the same thing.

DSM IV doesn't think so - they're both characterized as anti-social personality disorder (as I also learned from that same book).
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:28 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, my mistake-- it does seem to be minorly controversial but I was thinking they were two completely different things.
posted by threeants at 5:29 PM on January 5, 2013


I found a pretty good distinction here:

"Sociopaths are seen as disorganized and rash, making extreme responses to normal situations. They lack impulse control. Psychopaths, by contrast, are highly organized, often secretly planning out and fantasizing about their acts in great detail before actually committing them, and sometimes manipulating people around them.

Either of these sorts of "people" would yell jump.

But WE want YOU to LIVE!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:35 PM on January 5, 2013


What else can we put an end to with chants? World hunger?
posted by phaedon at 5:41 PM on January 5, 2013


I was making the mistake that Wikipedia alludes to, conflating psychopathy with psychoticism (as I've known people struggling with psychotic behavior to erroneously refer to themselves as "psychopaths").
posted by threeants at 5:43 PM on January 5, 2013


I used to live in London, and things would happen there like
- a man begged a woman to come with him, his girlfriend was giving birth and needed help, she followed him to the abandoned block where the 'homeless couple' were living, to be raped, wrapped in barbed wire and set alight. Somehow she got out alive, or nobody would ever have found out.
- a common scam where a man bangs on the door late at night, crying: he's just been rung up to say his son's in hospital but he's got no money for a taxi, please can you lend him £20 and he'll pay you back as soon as he can? My friend got up and gave it to him, i read in magazines (this is 1996) about this scam so it must've been widespread.
- woman comes up and asks you for the trainfare to go to X place far away - she's homeless and her benefits office has been shifted (they do, but they pay your train fare)
Over and over, people prey on your kindest, softest, most caring part until you become a suspicious, cold, hard, abused (financially, but also in trust) bastard.
Since i came to very rural Wales, village of 100 houses max, and biggest town 3,000, i can tell you, people are so kind and helpful and totally trusting...cities are just abusive, we weren't designed to live in them and walk past people... (i didn't want to come here). Having said which, my dad saw a woman fall flat on her face and smash it on some glass she was carrying, he managed to turn the car round drive back and help her, and he said no-one else did. (She was fine, her leg'd just given way suddenly, but he had to drive her home.) Still i do think it makes a difference how regularly you're abused, screwed over, lied to, boasted to, etc - a lot of behaviour doesn't wash here which is standard in London, eg bigging up what you've done, or complaining. People tell you in the shops where to buy stuff cheaper or how to save money in their shop. Helpfulness and kindness and honesty are just normal, and i've realised, if you live somewhere this small, everyone knows everything you did, so boasting, lying etc will cause you more problems for more years than you will ever gain. I just think, maybe our evolution, cultural or biological-behavioural, occurred in such small groups, so we acquired stuff like 'morality' for these situations. Psychologists act like living in huge groups is normal, but evolutionarily, it's wholly abnormal.
posted by maiamaia at 5:50 PM on January 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


> What else can we put an end to with chants? World hunger?

No, but we can certainly make a start at stamping out cynical sarcasm! ;-)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:52 PM on January 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


I can't sleep. There are too many parts of this story that literally hit home for me. And then there are these other parts, so foreign and so incomprehensible...I can't fit it all together. It scares me. It makes me wonder if there is something foreign within me, something shrouded by all the social constructs I've learned thus far, and that part is capable of such heartlessness under certain conditions. Or perhaps even worse, a part not so strange, and is capable of such inaction — that necessary but emotionless buffer for a situation that has no known script. I don't want to know a script for this scenario. But I'm afraid of what me and my fellow humans are capable of without one.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:15 PM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I stood on a bridge once. It was nighttime and no one would have seen me if anyone was around. I didn't jump because I knew no one would feed my dog and then he'd die and that wasn't fair. Yup, that's how the suicidal brain can work.

In the article the writer mentions that the victim recently bought some bike parts. I've literally stood on a platform carrying several hundred dollars worth of purchases and considered jumping and then imagined people then thinking, "he must have *fell* into the subway tracks--no one goes shopping before they kill themselves". People who don't consider suicide (are there such people?) think we think rationally--that we weigh things out. No--at least I don't. It's a compulsion, not a choice. That's how the suicidal brain works. Or mine, anyway.

In fact, it's rare for me to wait for a subway (something I do most days) and not contemplate jumping in front of it. And I'm not an unhappy person on the whole. I don't really have major life problems. I don't want to die, either. I just don't want to be alive. My brain does not think those are the same things--it does not see a contradiction there.

Contrary to the victim in the story, I don't think egging me on would cause me to go through with it. I'd probably want to beat the egger up instead as, as fucked as my thought processes are, I know the egger is in the wrong.
posted by dobbs at 6:17 PM on January 5, 2013 [31 favorites]


Some of the best often die by their own hand, just to get away--and those left behind wonder why anyone would ever want to get away from them. -- Bukowski
posted by dobbs at 6:20 PM on January 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


lupus_yonderboy, the bulk of the people yelling "jump" are not pathological. They're acting on an ill-considered impulse. There are many people (unfortunately myself included), whose reaction to seeing someone acting too far outside the norm in a public space is "fuck you for subjecting me to this." Witnessing these sorts of behaviors makes everyone uncomfortable, but there are at least two groups of primary reactions. The first group immediately understands and believes what they are seeing. For the second group, the notion of uncontrollable psychosis or determined self-harm is beyond their personal scope, so every incident where a stranger acts out in public is attention-seeking narcissism.

Personally, I realize that this is a flaw on my part, and I am conscious of this and able to rationalize it away after an initial flash of anger. The fact remains that I am unable on some level to believe that individuals can find themselves, through no fault of their own, so far removed from clear thought or even propriety. And I will probably not be able to fully accept that this occurs until it happens to me, should I be lucky enough to recover from it. If I encounter a person in the street who is acting profoundly mentally ill, my first emotion is anger at them for involving me, however incidentally, in their "game." However, I am then able to explain to myself that they are not consciously antagonizing the public and they then have my full sympathy and I will act in total concern for their safety when that's something that I am able to do.

I believe that most people who would antagonize a potential jumper are similarly wired, but they lack the self-awareness and knowledge that would allow them to realize that this is a deeply ill person and not an amateur performance artist. They're not necessarily bad people, they may be highly sympathetic to all sorts of other situations and afflictions. But in a situation where someone is acting in a disassociative manner, they are not able to understand the situation and therefore feel antagonized by it. This is a troubling personal flaw, but it is not necessarily indicative of a personality that relishes misfortune in others; it's more along the line of "I don't do this shit to you, why are you doing it to me?" It's anger that the subject is not following an implied social contract.

I reiterate-- this is not acceptable behavior, but for these people it is not born of malice.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:25 PM on January 5, 2013 [17 favorites]


This angers me to no end. Rage, and pain and greif. There just aren't words. I did not know this man, but he was human and now he is dead and nothing can ever change that. He'll never get a second chance, and yet those people are still around. Why do those fuckers get to breathe? I just... I, quite literally, cannot comprehend acting that way. How human can you consider yourself if it takes so little as a crowd of people to lose your humanity?

I've talked down several people from suicide. Yes, they were close to me, but I feel like even if they were strangers I would have done the same. And, flyingsquirell, I would have stopped. I would have asked if you were ok. I've been in the most crowded, grumpy places full of people who don't want to be there and just keep walking with their eyes forward- and I've stopped.
At O'Hare during a 14 hour layover when there were thousands of people crammed in the airport over christmas, there was a girl sitting off to the side, crying. I was amybe 19 at the time, and I saw her and I was worried. But I walked past like everyone else, and it took me all of 3 seconds to realize that that was the shittiest thing to do and I turned right back around and asked if she was ok or if she needed to borrow a phone. She was fine. Same thing in 100 degree weather at an amusement park- an elderly lady was crying on one of the benches. I also offered her help. I've dug out people stuck in the snow, I've given people money. Been a "victim" of scammers before- I myself stuck in a fucking train station only to lend my last 20 dollars to some guy who doesn't actually need it.
And I won't ever not do those things. I don't care how many times I'm taken advantage of. What's the alternative? I don't want to live in it.
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:19 PM on January 5, 2013 [27 favorites]


How many people stop when they walk by a homeless person asking for change and offer to help turn their life around?

Does lobbying your local city council for increased help for homeless folks living with dual-diagnosis count?
posted by KokuRyu at 7:46 PM on January 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I had a panic attack/breakdown sort of thing in downtown Los Angeles about 5 years ago. The reasons don't matter. However, 6 separate times, people tried to help me. I was hanging back against a building, away from the sidewalk and was being pretty quiet. I was just hyperventilating and crying. I was so touched, but I didn't need any help. I just needed my EMERGENCY XANAX.
posted by Kloryne at 7:58 PM on January 5, 2013


> I would have stopped

Thank you for saying that, FirstMateKate. Because, while of course I know New Yorkers can be wonderful people, I was in way too much pain, close to unconsciousness, to've had the wherewithal to ask for help. My experience that day was so intense (the loneliness, not the pain), I actually went back to the spot many weeks later and photographed it, for an essay I wrote about it. I, too, stop when people (or animals) need help, even if it means alienating the people I'm with, or putting myself in an embarrassing or public situation, or being late and making others wait. Can we help everyone, always? No. But in situations where we can help one person? Yes. Of course, no questions asked. It's just... it's what you do. Period.

All night I've been thinking about the crowd yelling "jump," and how the cops didn't stop it. We can't ever know whether their shouts made a difference in Dylan's decision. But the fact that the shouts happened at all, that they were allowed to happen... damn. Rage, pain and grief is exactly right.

When you see a man who's broken
Pick him up and carry him
And when you see a woman who's broken
Put her all into your arms

-- Laurie Anderson, "Ramon"

posted by flyingsquirrel at 8:09 PM on January 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


None of those people know what it is like, to be on that edge, to be considering the unthinkable. They don't know what it is to be staring at the abyss, whether it's a forty foot drop or an endless ocean.

If they did, they wouldn't say those things. They wouldn't think it clever. Some of us have been there. It's not funny. It's terrifying and enticing. And they don't know that.

It's rare that being kind isn't the answer.
posted by donpardo at 8:09 PM on January 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


downtown Los Angeles...6 separate times, people tried to help me.

And this is why I prefer LA to SFO. Sure, LA can be a heartless bitch. But I've never gotten the feeling that you could count on people in SF to be decent. In LA, at least, you might get lucky.
posted by spacewrench at 8:11 PM on January 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Does lobbying your local city council for increased help for homeless folks living with dual-diagnosis count?

Admirable, no doubt. Maybe some of my punchy comments in this thread are about letting off a little steam. Still, I have my doubts about people that condemn bystanders from the comfort of their couch.

What am I trying to say? I'm not sure. I - and I'm sure many people - certainly have the capacity to get upset about world events - why can't people just be nicer to each other? - and then honk on my horn to get the idiot in front of me to fucking drive faster. By the same token, the people that laugh at or ignore someone in need, are they truly bad? Do they go home and beat their wives or do they take care of their families? Tough questions. I try my best not to be completely misanthropic about the situation. I accept this duality. Anyone of us can be both darkness and light, and we face that choice every day. And I would venture to say a lot of suck at it. We human beings are at the very least inconsistent.

Setting aside the specifics of attempted suicide, you might ask yourself why don't we have a better, more organized responses to many different kinds of social problems. Maybe you could say all the freedom and individuality that we are afforded in our society allows us to act like assholes whenever we want to. Maybe our relationship with our tv boxes subconsciously turn us into non-participants, treating even the most horrid of situations as a form of entertainment.

There are political, cultural, emotional and even biological aspects to this one simple observable problem - all of us could do something at any given moment to embetter each other's lives, and yet we often choose not to. Instead, we passively preserve what we feel is ours. I suppose I'm largely talking to myself here, but I think that's interesting food for thought.
posted by phaedon at 8:37 PM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


If it helps any, the fact that people don't stop to help is a reaction to a bizarre psychological quirk, detailed in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion; there's a tendency for people not to know what to do in an unfamiliar social experience, and so they look around to see what others are doing -- something called social proof. The downside is that if nobody really knows how to react, then sometimes nobody reacts at all, which may be the reason why things like Kitty Genovese's murder happened in front of witnesses and yet nobody did anything. The real downside is that if one joker starts shouting "jump," a certain number of people are likely to start thinking this is a joke, or a prank, or whatever, and join in. Even if they know it isn't, the one person who gets it started has given a sort of social permission for others to indulge.

Apparently, there is a sort of quick cure for this, although I am not sure how it might work in this circumstance. If you suddenly have a heart attack, for instance, and you fall to the ground, and people are just ignoring you, point at one and say "YOU -- call 911 right now!" Once somebody starts treating it as an emergency, others will as well, and the rate of compliance is something like 90 percent when you do this. People want to help; they something just don't know how or if they should, and it isn't until somebody offers social proof that this is what should be done that they act.

As the story makes it clear, there were a lot of people listening to the shouts of "jump" and saying "why doesn't somebody do something." If somebody had, it's possible the crowd would have stopped. Certainly if the cops had stepped in.

The lesson I got from learned about social proof is that, if I wonder why nobody is doing anything, I try to be the one to do something. Even if I don't know what. Somebody else is likely to step in and say "No, let's do this! It will work better!"
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:40 PM on January 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


I thought about linking posting this video back before Christmas, but it seemed so depressing I decided not to. In contrast to this story though…

Sometimes a good person does come along and reach out a hand. A person like Sergeant Kevin Briggs of the California Highway Patrol who patrols the Golden Gate Bridge.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:53 PM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm going to chime in to testify again, this time slightly different. To speak on some of what Bunny Ultramod is talking about. And so far a lot of the examples [mine included] have been about people ignoring other people's problems in the face of emergency, and it tends to lead to a lot of cynicism and despair about how humans suck and they're just self serving buttheads. And, yeah, sometimes this might be the case, and yelling "jump" puts you on my very, very short list of people I harbor violent feelings toward. But, really, it's more than that.
I was in 10th grade and my house caught fire. It was electrical. I heard the popping noise from in my bedroom, and thought it was the familiar sound of my dog's claws on the hard floor. Well, he had died like 4 days prior and those two facts did not link up in my head. The power went out, and I sat there for a second, and just as I was about to get up and investigate, my mom burst into my bedroom and told me that the house was on fire and to get out now. Luckily it was contained to upstairs and so getting out now was pretty darn easy, I just got up and walked out. My mom had gone off to find my dad who was being a heroic idiot and went to fetch the garden hose. As I was making my not so grand escape, I came into the living room and saw my older sister just standing there, her hands on her head. She looked at me. "What do I do?" "Go outside." And I took her arm and led her outside.
Sometimes, when there's an emergency, people shut down. They don't treat it as an actual event, like something that's happening to them and something they need to respond to. The emergency is, in their head, usually located external of their being, and so they respond like it doesn't even exist-even when it's their own well-being that needs help.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:22 PM on January 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I *HATE* L.A. intensely. I hate the people of SF, but I like the city since I don't drive and this is one of the few places where I don't have to.
posted by mike3k at 11:24 PM on January 5, 2013


Man, I love LA. It is my favorite place on earth. I would leave Toronto in a heartbeat if I could legally work in LA. I've never had a single negative thought in the months I've spent there. I have them pretty much every minute in my hometown.
posted by dobbs at 12:05 AM on January 6, 2013


For the people who have said they wouldn't know what to do when faced with the situation of someone trying to kill themselves - you can get training. Applied Suicide Intervention Training is what I've done, but I'm sure there are others. There is less you can do from being at street level when someone is several floors up, but I suspect that most scenarios of talking someone down are not like this.
posted by Coobeastie at 3:02 AM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Frowner is definitely onto something there. I think that unless we prepare our responses ahead of time and analyze what biases we might be bringing into our reactions, there'll just be too much going on in any situation out of the ordinary for us to hope for a sensible reaction. The best thing we can do when confronted with articles like this is to humble ourselves and use them to reflect upon our inner conditioning so that should we ever be in a similar situation, we at least have a chance at doing the right thing. We might point fingers at those who were yelling to jump, but in reality, I feel that their actions say less about them as individuals, but the human condition in general.

.
posted by Conspire at 3:38 AM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I always thought- hoped- that if I were ever in this situation, I could cancel out the people yelling "jump" by yelling "live"- people are so suceptible to influence that I bet others would join in.

I think it has to be a single syllable to be effective.
posted by windykites at 5:32 AM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually, "go inside" might be more effective; especially if living seems too big for them or if they're having a psychotic break and don't equate jumping with dying.
posted by windykites at 6:17 AM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always thought- hoped- that if I were ever in this situation, I could cancel out the people yelling "jump" by yelling "live"- people are so suceptible to influence that I bet others would join in.

Is there any evidence this would work, not in terms of the crowd, but in terms of influencing the person? It's vaguely alluded to in the article--some people would jump just to spite you. I would certainly think "Fuck off. Your life might be wonderful, but what do you know about mine?"
posted by hoyland at 6:41 AM on January 6, 2013


Is there any evidence this would work, not in terms of the crowd, but in terms of influencing the person? It's vaguely alluded to in the article--some people would jump just to spite you. I would certainly think "Fuck off. Your life might be wonderful, but what do you know about mine?"

I think it's certainly better than letting the consensus be 'jump'.
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 8:53 AM on January 6, 2013


"Jump!"

Heads turn, seeking out the class clown in the sea of faces. Laughter rising all around, compressed snickers and knee-slapping roars.

In between chuckles, a man in a blue button-down blurts, "He said 'Jump!'"

His female companion in black sunglasses replies with an enthusiastic cackle, "That's awful!"
Some pages later:
Beto makes his way through the crowd and finds a spot beside a man in a blue button-down shirt and a woman in black sunglasses. He overhears the pair chatting with one of the policemen. Turns out these two spectators are off-duty cops from Contra Costa County. They don't think he's going to jump, either.
Fucking cops, man.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:25 AM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


which may be the reason why things like Kitty Genovese's murder happened in front of witnesses and yet nobody did anything.

Not actually true:
None of the witnesses observed the attacks in their entirety. Because of the layout of the complex and the fact that the attacks took place in different locations, no witness saw the entire sequence of events. Most only heard portions of the incident without realizing its seriousness, a few saw only small portions of the initial assault, and no witnesses directly saw the final attack and rape, in an exterior hallway.[1] Additionally, after the initial attack punctured her lungs, leading to her eventual death from asphyxiation, it is unlikely that she was able to scream at any volume.
Kitty Genovese has become this conservative myth about how people in big cities are all callous and beastly and not like us sort of people, but as per usual there's little truth to it.

Personally I think the bystander effect is real but exagerrated and is often used to excuse specific failings in those people and especially institutions that failed to act.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:47 AM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some of the best often die by their own hand, just to get away--and those left behind wonder why anyone would ever want to get away from them. -- Bukowski

I wonder if Bukowski was thinking of William Wantling when he said that?
posted by she's not there at 12:19 PM on January 6, 2013


Oh, I didn't mean that it would necessarily get the sufferer to change their mind- I meant it might influence the crowd to stop/ drown out the people egging on the sufferer. If they're going to do it, they're going to do it, but why not at least try to help?
posted by windykites at 5:15 PM on January 6, 2013


In fact, it's rare for me to wait for a subway (something I do most days) and not contemplate jumping in front of it. And I'm not an unhappy person on the whole. I don't really have major life problems. I don't want to die, either. I just don't want to be alive. My brain does not think those are the same things--it does not see a contradiction there.

I think there was a metafilter post about this not too long ago. I'm not sure if it was AskMe or just a regular front-page post, but it really resonated with me. There were a number of members who shared stories about having the urge to jump, or bump the steering wheel just slightly before a bridge, etc.,
posted by odinsdream at 5:30 PM on January 6, 2013


Conspire: "I think that unless we prepare our responses ahead of time and analyze what biases we might be bringing into our reactions, there'll just be too much going on in any situation out of the ordinary for us to hope for a sensible reaction."

In support of that idea, in the book Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales, he says (quoted from memory) that during a crisis, you become "a superhero with a learning disability" — immensely strong, with almost no reasoning power. What you've practiced, what you've drilled, is what you'll be able to do. If you haven't at least mentally rehearsed something, the chances of carrying it off are minuscule.
posted by Lexica at 10:32 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


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