Dr. Christian Miller, a professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University has a new book, “The Character Gap: How Good Are We?” The book tackles the testy issue of getting ourselves to behave better in many situations, including those in which someone is being harmed. We know from the long list of Hollywood folks, political figures, sports figures, figures in academia, figures in auto plants, and, well, you name it, in sexual harassment that a standard litany has emerged, “We all knew about it,” or “We joked about it.” There are expressed regrets, “I knew enough to do more than I did.”
Professor Miller offers some insights on the bystander effect of doing nothing. He notes that our tendency to do nothing goes back to grade-school days when we feared being embarrassed for getting involved when others were not doing the same. But, Professor Miller brings in research that concludes if just one person steps up and expresses concern about someone being harmed, others are more likely to join. The one brave soul can make a difference.
He also notes that those who have just listened to a discussion of the ethics and importance of helping others who need it are also more likely to get involved and get the necessary help.
It’s the reminders that trigger better behavior. If we are reminded to help those in need, we do it. Students cheat less if they sign honor codes before taking tests. The training, the codes, the little discussions of ethics, the courage and example of one person, are all forms of nudges that help us be better.