Bystander Apathy –An Enquiry Into The Expression Of Humanity And Empathy In China (2013-2014)

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Bibliographic Information
Journal Conference Proceedings of Educational Paradigm, Systems and Strategies
Title Bystander Apathy –An Enquiry Into The Expression Of Humanity And Empathy In China (2013-2014)
Author(s) Johnson, Timothy Taulke
Volume 1
Issue 1
Year 2014
Pages 7-16
DOI 10.21016/ICEPSS.2014.14003
Full Text Crystal Clear mimetype pdf.png
URL Link
Keywords Bystanders, Apathy, Humanity, Empathy
Chicago 16th Johnson, Timothy Taulke. "Bystander Apathy –An Enquiry Into The Expression Of Humanity And Empathy In China (2013-2014)." Conference Proceedings of Educational Paradigm, Systems and Strategies 1, no. 1 (2014).
APA 6th Johnson, T. T. (2014). Bystander Apathy –An Enquiry Into The Expression Of Humanity And Empathy In China (2013-2014). Conference Proceedings of Educational Paradigm, Systems and Strategies, 1(1).
MHRA Johnson, Timothy Taulke. 2014. 'Bystander Apathy –An Enquiry Into The Expression Of Humanity And Empathy In China (2013-2014)', Conference Proceedings of Educational Paradigm, Systems and Strategies, 1.
MLA Johnson, Timothy Taulke. "Bystander Apathy –An Enquiry Into The Expression Of Humanity And Empathy In China (2013-2014)." Conference Proceedings of Educational Paradigm, Systems and Strategies 1.1 (2014). Print.
Harvard JOHNSON, T. T. 2014. Bystander Apathy –An Enquiry Into The Expression Of Humanity And Empathy In China (2013-2014). Conference Proceedings of Educational Paradigm, Systems and Strategies, 1.

Abstract

Aim To explore the apparent lack of personal concern for the welfare of others in China? To develop concepts to understand this  social phenomena in natural  settings using ethnographic and participatory research. Research Question How can the knowledge derived from qualitative research be used to improve the welfare of the poor in Shanghai? Ethics The study was carried out within the guidelines of the declaration of Helsinki. The study was characterised by anonymity, beneficence, non maleficence, and the  maintainence of  the dignity of participants Method Collection of data. The principle data source was “observation” spot observation”(Baksh 1990)”,participant observation”(Hammersley and Atkinson 1983)vignettes(Finch 1987,Sani Bin Gabi 1990), oral history(narrative) Conclusion The study was conducted ethically. It was a worthwhile study attempted to deal with current problems. The publication of this paper can be used to stimulate further enquiry into the problem of those in need of social welfare in Shanghai and China ,in the hope it will improve services where they are needed. Suggested solutions In a country where intergenerational family ties are so strong and “guanxi” exists it is paradoxical there is  little empathy for others. Confuscian values ,changed family beliefs, and education at school and  university may assist in increasing empathy . Learnt conditioning, to ignore or dissociate ,from another human being in   need of help, can be slowly overcome by implementing universal and improved changes in societal living conditions. This can be achieved  by improving social welfare programs, spearheaded by a compassionate government. There is a view that it is an egregious and transparent fiction, to promulgate and publically promote, the philosophies and policies of communism ,yet allow these curable social ills to remain. ”Rex ipsa Loquiter”.The healthy should help the sick,the rich should help the poor and the employed should help the unemployed ,Proportionately,in accordance with what they have they should give. The promotion of a “ forward thinking, humane , listening and open society ,rather than a closed, narrow ,opaque, inward looking “weltanschaung” would assist societal reform. We “bystanders”, we must all try to imagine we are in the  place  of those in need, and  feel aas they do , in their situation. We must follow the advice of Mencius (372-289BC) and develop and use “empathy” As Mencius  said,”a  developed  human heart is the basis  of a moral life”


Introduction

In Fushon China, in October 2011,a two year old girl Wang Yue was hit by van then run over by a truck .Eighteen people watched and did nothing. She died.

In Queens, New York, March 13th 1964, Kitty Genovese, a young 28 year old girl was attacked and stabbed to death. Thirty eight people observed this, no one intervened

On June 16th 20o8,Sergi Aquilar ,living in Tulock California, trampled and stomped on his two year old son, Axel Cassain, to death. No one intervened

In March 12th 1998,Larry Froistad ,an alcoholic ,boasted on an internet Chat site, that he had set fire to his house and killed his daughter. Two hundred people read about this. No one intervened

In June 2008,Esmin King, a patient, lay for forty eight hours on the floor of Kings County Hospital centre Brooklyn and died, with medical staffing walking past him ,ignoring him

In April 2010,Hugo Alfredo Tale Yax, helped a girl being attacked on the streets of New York city. He was stabbed to death .Twenty five people walked by him dying on the sidewalk

Last winter in Shanghai where I worked, people were out in the streets , in the snow and ice, begging for help and food. Very few helped .most people walked by.

Last Sunday a man with both legs amputated below the knees ,was begging outside the Church at Renmin Square in Shanghai. Thirty people walked by ,completely ignoring his plight.

One of my friends ,a single parent abandoned by her husband, receives no help from the State.

Another friend worries what will happen to her parents when they get old ,as she has no money to help them.

My Nurse told me that sometimes if people are ill and are hospitalised in China ,if they have no money for treatment ,they die

Social science research is useful to describe explain interpret and elucidate subjective meaning of behaviour that can be verified later. It is process oriented research(Denzin 1994)culturally specific emic data are the best resource to inform research .the research does not set out to validate or test an hypothesis but to postulate links between knowledge and behaviour with an intent to develop a model to predict that behavior(Garro 1982,Coreil 1991)

Quantitative research measures and tests, Qualitative research explores, illustrates illuminates and interprets human behavior. Qualitative research differs from quantitative research in two other ways. As much weight is given to oral information,(psychological autopsies) as published data, and qualitative research draws its samples from a diverse range of subjects and contexts rather a restricted study samples.

This research has long history beginning with Somerville(1897),and stretching through Malonowski (1922 )Hammersley (1983)Pelto (1992)

The dominant methodology used in this study is “ participant observation”. The method is frequently used and also has a long history beginning with De Quincey and his studies of drug addiction(1882) and later Goffman(1961) in his study of mental hospitals.

Aim

To explore the apparent lack of personal concern for the welfare of others in China? To develop concepts to understand this social phenomena in natural settings using ethnographic and participatory research.

Research Question

How can the knowledge derived from qualitative research be used to improve the welfare of the poor in Shanghai?

Ethics

The study was carried out within the guidelines of the declaration of Helsinki. The study was characterised by anonymity, beneficence, non maleficence, and the maintainence of the dignity of participants

Method

Collection of data

The principle data source was “observation” spot observation”(Baksh 1990)”,participant observation”(Hammersley and Atkinson 1983)vignettes(Finch 1987,Sani Bin Gabi 1990), oral history(narrative)

Results

Narrative/Vignettes

Miss I.A young girl. Lead to believe she would marry a man. She fell pregnant.The man left her and said the child was not his. Although told by the Magistrate he must pay I money to support the child, he refuses. The child has no father and can get no child registration in China .This means the little girl “Niu Niu” cannot attend school. The father of I died from cancer. the mother is 63 and cannot work. There is no social support. What can she do?

JZ.A young girl working in a coffee shop in World Financial Tower(Julies)Her father has heart disease and her mother has osteoarthrosis .The mother cannot bend and wears a lumbar support ,They work as farmers in a village called “Long Tail”They farm Soy .There is snow three months of the year and during these months they cannot work .They have no heating in their home except a stove. The temperature is minus thirty six degrees in winter in the Harbin area. There is no social support for the old and sick or those with a very low income. What will happen to the family when they get old and sick?

A.A is a Nurse.Her family are from a small village in Hunan Province .Her mother became ill. A local visiting doctor operated on her and the mother died. The family could not afford to buy the services of a “good Doctor” nor pay the “Hongbau” the Doctor would ask to perform the operation well. There is no social support for the rural poor.The health services for the poor are incomparable and inadequate compared to the services for the rich in China.What can the family do?

LZ. Works in Shanghai to support her father and mother and children.her family live in Dalian. Her house had a hole in the roof. Her father cut down some wood from nearby trees .For this he was imprisoned for two years for .The family have no proper wall to their house ,no proper roofing ,no heating and no proper toilet. The sister of LZ died in Hospital. The family had no money to pay the bills for the Hospital. The father is sick with an unidentified illness. He cannot afford to go to the Doctor. There is no social welfare support for this family.

The Pastor(Youth Night ,Renmin Square Church).The Pastor was approached and asked if some members of his Church group would assist in giving out food to the poor at Renmin Square, Tube station, Exit 11.The Pastor replied he is only permitted by the Government to do things onside the Church, Not outside the Church.

Spot Observation.

Along the streets of Nanjing Xilu, Renmin Square (especially outside exit eleven)and Jing An Temple in Shanghai , are many beggars, asking for alms and food.They are there everyday during the winter begging ,when the temperatures are sub zero .Every day many many people walk by these beggars without a glance backwards .One Sunday, outside the Church in Renmin Square there was an old man, without legs and only one arm, lying flat on a wooden board, pleading for help .I stood there and watched for thirty minutes. No one helped him or even stopped to ask how he was.

Participant Observation

Food was given to beggars every day. There was no suggestion from the appearance of the beggars that they were ”professional beggars”, belonged to gangs who employed them to make money for criminal activities or nefarious purposes. There was no evidence the beggars were inauthentic in their needs.

Conversations

Concerning helping others

Dr T..”It’s too complicated”

Dr A.”we cannot reach the leaders..It will take generations to change”

Miss S..”what can we do,we cannot..”

Dr G..”it is the governments problem..”

Concerning the plight of beggars

Mr L ..”they belong to gangs”

Church Pastor..”we cannot help, we are only allowed by the government to work inside the Church

Jottings/Field notes

(available in journal)

Discussion

Although there were few research respondents” an intensive study of a few may lead to a better understanding than a less intensive study of many(Roberts 1951,Selly 1985)

Empathy is the ability to understand someone else feelings by considering their situation ,their behaviour and their emotion. A lack of empathy causes social impairment as there is no understanding of the perspective or view of the other in any social interaction.

In nature even the most primitive life forms exhibit sacrifice for the group.The slime mould “Dictostelium mucoroides” exists individually as an amoebic cells but in situation of starvation ,a group of cells coalesce together ,some cells dying for the benefit of survival of the group.

In other words the fitness of the self is subjugated to the fitness of another even at this primitive level of organization..

There are several views about the value and use of empathy and altruism

One view is that empathy and altruism is an evolutionary method to enable the development of close social bonds and relationships(a “selective investment theory”).

Altruism could also be seen as a form of” costly signally”(emphasing to others their worth) .

Or it may be seen as a competition to out bid others, to’ increase fitness” within a group.

It may be a way of promoting a vested interest or receiving reciprocal obligation directly or indirectly

Marcell Mauss Anthropologist(1872-1950) explains in his book ”The Gift” ,that empathy is a moral notion of obligation and satisfaction.

Sociologists see empathy as the foundation of a “good society”

The many different world religions have empathy as an integral component of their belief system .Sikhism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism.

A well known story in Sikh literature (Rahlan 1997) is that of the Guru Gobimal Ing Jil .The Guru explains empathy .During the war he gave water to the wounded of his enemies .He was challenged , criticised and asked why he had done this by his friend Bai Karlhaipi. He said in reply ”I saw your face in the face of all of them.” Bai thought about this.. Much later Bai Karlhaipi formed a volunteer corp in India to help the sick and the poor.

Jainism promotes altruism towards all sentient beings with a non violent philosophy of “live and let live”(Ahinsa)

Islam promotes the same concept in the form of “ithar”

The Rabbi Abraham Kook (1971) states that love (altruism) is the most important attribute of humanity .The Rabbi Yehudi Ashlog sees altruism as the platform upon which all secure and stable societies will be built.

The Christian religion exhorts Christians “to love thy neighbor as thyself. ”St Thomas Aquinas in “Summa Theological” also reinforces this view to Love thy neighbor more than thyself”

Philosophers see altruism expressed as the importance of the duty to help others (Leiter 2004) even though giving help may hinder self-development and creativity. Nietsche states we are morally obliged to help others, from the utilitarian perspective, we are all collectively responsible and mutually accountable for each others welfare. We are all equal.

Psychologists see the natural development of empathy in children from about the age of two, beginning with prosaically behavior, instrumental behavior and then altruistic behavior (Swetlova 2010).Helping, sharing, cooperating and comforting, are all aspects of empathy. Bateson (2010) discusses the development of four types of empathy in the child:. Altruism to benefit the self, altruism and empathy to benefit a group (“collective empathy”)and altruism to adhere to moral code(“principal altruism”).Bourke(1973) showed that empathy adapts itself to the surrounding environment. In China a child’s misbehavior reflects on the family Unit. Thus the child very soon learns to avoid punishment by being different and” standing out”

Cialdini (1981) writes that society successfully reinforces helping behavior in children, thus when children reach adulthood, a good feeling inside, is experienced when helping others. This is called the “negative state relief model”(Cialdini 1987,Bateson 1971)) or the “helpers high”. Jorge Moll in his studies of brain function with MRI scans showed activation of the mesolimbic system when helping others, and also the superior temporal cortex (“the reward centres”)

Other authors have studied empathy. Selfless helping usually occurs when one feels empathy (Coke 1978) and Bateson (1981) found that the higher the empathy experienced by a person, the more help they will give, no matter what the cost.

Latane and Rodin (1969) and Latane and Darley (1968) look at the issue of helping others in another way. They discuss the different reactions of people, in a crowd, not as individuals, to the need in another person or an emergency. They studied and discussed the social psychology of these reactions in detail and termed them “bystander effect”.

“Bystander effect“ is “the term given to describe what happens when people who observe someone else suffering, does not assist them.”

Children have innate empathy, which develops alongside their human development. So how can the “bystander effect” be understood? Do children lose empathy when they become adults under certain circumstances?

Perhaps empathy is experienced but is masked, because the perception of pain perceived in the other is felt and re interpreted as a threat to the self. This “emotional contagion” has been studied extensively by Cacioppo(1993)

Defense mechanisms are known to be activated under conditions of threat. Several things may happen.

Cognitive dissonance (Festinger 1957) may occur and the person eject from the situation completely.

Fear arouses vulnerability and protective coping. This is the “ protection motivation theory”(Rippetoe and Rogers 1987).The onlooker may ignore or distort the threat so undermining motivation to help (Coulter 1995)

“Downward comparison” may occur, and this may exonerate or excuse the bystander from intervening in the situation. If a person is suffering, the onlooker also feels risk, and a perception of personal vulnerability (Weinstein 1980). The anxiety provokes a downward comparison(Wills 1981),the comparison with the inferior target reduces stress (Stanton 1999) leading to optimism bias (Perloff 1986) and no intervention to help another.

Rational cognition,as espoused in “the theory of planned behavior”(Azjen 1985) and the “precaution adoption model”(Weinstein 1980) is known to produce behavior change ,and

Emotion enhances behavior change (Sutton 1998). The Yerkes Dodson studies also show anxiety and motivation predicts behavior change (1908),as does the perceived likelihood and severity of threat to the self (van der Pfligt 1998)

However highly threatening emotive behavior is processed by avoidance or denial (Mendolia 1999) or refutation (Lieberman 1992), as well as “ repression”,” defensive processing’ and reactance”

Repression denies attention and processing resources to stimuli and terminates them (Mendolia 1996). Strategies used by the psyche to achieve this are “attention narrowing” “self distraction” and selective attention” to less threatening messages. This means the weaker and less complex information is stored preferentially and the threat stimuli are less accessible. The awareness of the threat exists but with poor recall. The trigger that activates the repression is a strong emotional threat (e.g. to seeing a suffering human being) and is immediate and automatic.

Thus any negative evaluation of a situation may produce the opposite effect of what is intended. Instead of increasing attention being given being given to any problem, less attention will be given to it. Therefore to be effective in advocating for any change emotion must be used sparingly and separately from the content or details d the message that is delivered.

Defensive reprocessing is discussed by Kunda(1990) In this defense mechanism the wished for outcome biases the use of information in the wished for direction. The bias may be either way. Towards non-critical acceptance of the situation or termination of the processing (Blanton 1977). Unfavorable information is therefore received hypercritically (Chaiken 1997) and there is motivation to resist criticism, even if it is relevant and valid. Because processing bias is unconscious it is difficult to deal with. However it can be reduced or limited by drawing attention to processes that maintain the bias. Giving a two sided message simultaneously by passes this mechanism

Reactance is the felt internal experience of opposition, brought about because freedom is perceived to be curtailed .It is especially experienced if guilt or remorse is activated at the same time as reactance(Coulter 1995).Anger is the accompanying affect with reactance(not anxiety as in defensive reprocessing and repression).

There are many reactions that individuals may have to the internal feelings they experience when they are under stress by observing a fellow human being suffer.

Paradoxically the degree of help offered by bystanders to others in distress, is inversely proportional to the number of bystanders present. i.e. the more people who are present, the less help is given.(Latane 1969)

The bystander first has to notice something is needed, interpret the help that is needed

They have to feel in some way responsible for helping the person, and must feel competent to implement assistance, or detour assistance to them

In the seven examples given at the beginning of this article we can see that whether help is offered or not depends on many factors.

If there is an emergency or threat of harm, or if the problem is unusual or rare, or if the problem requires immediate action help is given readily.

If the situation is ambiguous and there is fear of negative consequences if help is given, assistance is rarely offered.

If there is high ambiguity in the situation, information overload occurs and there is a slow reaction time to the problem

If the helper is familiar with the environment and competent in solving the problem the reaction is usually swift

Being a member of a cohesiveness group, observing the problem altogether, may accelerate or impede assistance, depending on the group norms

However in large groups people may just gaze at the problem, thinking others are responsible to help(diffusion of responsibility for the problem),or assume others know what to do(plurality of ignorance)

Some excuse themselves from the situation by trivialising the problem, dissociate themselves from the problem, say they have other priorities, are worried about personal embarrassment if they help, they are too busy(Garcia 2002) ,or put their individual responsibility for assisting another on to the government, so effectively transfer responsibity for the problem to others and excusing themselves from any action. People model their behaviour on others responses to the problem, usually ignoring the problem.

The present study was carried out in Shanghai. Why is there so little empathy apparent and expressed in the behavior of Chinese to their countrymen in their own city? What are the differences in Shanghai and China?

The study of The study of Burkitt(2014) found Chinese were less empathic and had less self compassion than Americans in his study group.

There can be eleven reasons adduced or proposed for his findings.

Perhaps the cause of the lack of empathy is the language .In Mandarin there is no literal translation for the word “empathy”.It it does not exist, only the synonym” sympathy” is in the Chinese vocabulary .The “Sapir Worfe” hypothesis” (1929)suggests that if a word does not exist in a language, ,the concept also may not exist. The Innuits have thirty-three words for the different types of snow they experience .the English only have one word .The Chinese have one word for love (“Ai). The word is used sparingly if at all amongst older Chinese .The West has many words to describe the emotion.

It has been suggested the “one child policy” is a contributing cause “. This one child policy robs the remaining sibling of the first hand experience, of interacting with and experiencing family members feelings. The child grows up lacking the tools to be sensitive to others feelings, and then as an adult without empathy.(Myler 2013)Empathy is a learnt skill and is not learnt.

It may be that learnt conditioning as a child results in lack of empathy in adulthood. Empathy is present in all children (Sewetlova.2010).But if the expression of love is frowned upon in a family ,if words and actions of tenderness are not heard and seen in the family towards one another ,if a mask is worn over emotions ,if men never express tenderness and love openly to their wife and family .then the innocent child believes and accepts this as acceptable behavior to be learnt,, and introjects these behaviours .The child sees the parents walk by a person in need on the street ,and imitates this. After several imitations the conditions is reinforced and the child accepts this and integrates this within his or her personality. The child is too young to know of the work of Harry Harlow (1965) Bowlby (1976), Klein (1882-1960) of the critical importance of love and touch in bringing up a child. The child is too young to know that humans have five forms of communication (touch, taste, voice, hearing and smell).The child is too young to know that In a non touch culture as in China ,where love is not expressed ,the child is effectively cut off from ,and deprived of ,two forms of intimate communication that are important for its development .The child grows into an adult without realizing experiencing or understanding the wonder ,the breadth and depth of human experience, and is embarrassed and flustered as an adult if he or she has to face these emotions .The child grows up suppressing humanity. Here lies the enigma .If Chinese do indeed have empathic feelings as an adult and they express feelings by action and not words, then why do they not do something for their countrymen in need?

The lack of resources for many of the population has been advanced as a cause for the lack of empathy (Myler.2013) .The struggle for survival extinguishes much all-prosocial behaviour.

Lun Yutan offers yet a further explanation .In his book, ”My country,My people” he notes that Confuscius omitted, of the cardinal five relationships, an obligation to help strangers. So this is suggested as a reason for the lack of empathy.

Giving help to others may be seen as “meddling in another’s business”. If someone helps another their actions may be misunderstood and their motives discounted

In China people are classified as “Zi Ji ren” inside the group, or Wai ren” outside the group. No affective response arises if someone outside the group is seen to be in distress (Bond 1991). No help is given

Since the primary focus is on the community there may often be a failure to notice the plight of the individual.

Confuscius(551-479) upheld “virtue ethics” and many Chinese attempt to follow these virtues of sincerity, diligence, kindness ,generosity, benevolence and humanity. They are taught the Confuscian ideal of ”Yi”(righteousness,to try to do always what is ethically best in the context),and uphold these tenets.Yet, inexplicably, although holding these values ,there is little social action taken to articulate them. A fall away from traditional Chinese hospitality may also partly account for the lack of empathy.

A further factor to consider in explaining the lack of empathy, relates to social justice and the freedom to speak and act as one wishes in China. Many Chinese may wish to do something, yet they may be fearful. People are frightened to speak out against injustice, inequality or corruption. They feel, and are impotent to change governmental structures, priorities or programs, and are defeatist and pessimistic about their ability to change anything in their individual locus of concerns. They shrug their shoulders, and walk on by past a problem, as they can do nothing and it is someone else concern

There is no official religion in China. Although Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity are practiced, they are not widespread. Some spiritual practices are outlawed in China (Falung Gong). The notion of helping others is an alien and aberrant idea.

However these are only possible explanations of the observed lack of empathy in Shanghai and China. They do not vitiate or reduce our obligations as human beings to help others in need. They do not reduce, minimize or exonerate us from our responsibility when facing the moral imperative to help others in need. The utter helplessness of some in need is chilling.

Limitations of the study

Generalization of the study is unimportant as the goal of the study was to examine the unique, not the typical, describe a pattern of behavior and make inferences from the pattern.

The study was carried out in the context of a western perspective, not Chinese values.

An inexperienced researcher carried out the study. There were design defects, and an incomplete range of social science research methods was used in the study.

Being sensitive to language concepts used by the informants made allowances for bias. Allowances made for inaccurate information (Bernard 1988,Bleek 1987,Kroeger 1983)“Social desirability bias”,” recall bias” may have been present. The social science methods to reduce bias in a study (deviant cases, analysis of audit trail, data matrix display, peer debrief, independent analysis of data), were not carried out

Conclusion

The study was conducted ethically

It was a worthwhile study attempted to deal with current problems

The publication of this paper can be used to stimulate further enquiry into the problem of those in need of social welfare in Shanghai and China, in the hope it will improve services where they are needed.

Suggested solutions

In a country where intergenerational family ties are so strong and “guanxi” exists it is paradoxical there is little empathy for others. Confuscian values, changed family beliefs, and education at school and university may assist in increasing empathy.

Learnt conditioning, to ignore or dissociate, from another human being in need of help, can be slowly overcome by implementing universal and improved changes in societal living conditions. This can be achieved by improving social welfare programs, spearheaded by a compassionate government.

There is a view that it is an egregious and transparent fiction, to promulgate and publically promote, the philosophies and policies of communism, yet allow these curable social ills to remain. ”Rex ipsa Loquiter”.The healthy should help the sick,the rich should help the poor and the employed should help the unemployed ,Proportionately,in accordance with what they have they should give. The promotion of a “ forward thinking, humane, listening and open society, rather than a closed, narrow, opaque, inward looking “weltanschaung” would assist societal reform.

We “bystanders”, we must all try to imagine we are in the place of those in need, and feel aas they do , in their situation. We must follow the advice of Mencius (372-289BC) and develop and use “empathy” As Mencius said,”a developed human heart is the basis of a moral life”

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