Grown-Ass Adults Who Don’t Seek Personal Growth Hurt More Than Themselves


woman looking in reflective glass
Image by Barbara Iandolo from Pixabay

Did you hear that a woman was raped on a SEPTA train in Pennsylvania, and nobody stepped in to help? A man ripped her clothes off in full view of the other passengers and proceeded to assault her. It’s not that they didn’t see; reportedly some took videos.

The superintendent of the Upper Darby Township Police Department Timothy Bernhardt, said,

“Anybody that was on that train has to look in the mirror and ask why they didn’t intervene or why they didn’t do something.”

Look in the mirror

Look in the mirror. Well, yes, that’s a place to start. Too many people don’t do this. That is the truth.

Too many people keep their heads down and live a vanilla, safe life. They collect their paychecks, walk their dogs, and raise their children. They say things like, “If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for them.” They don’t think for themselves. They don’t question norms. They don’t believe in anything very strongly; if they do have a belief, it’s that they are content with this kind of life.

Too many people don’t know who they are, or understand what they are living for, or know what they’d die for.

It’s possible that there’s some need for pity for these people who are so far removed from their own values and beliefs that they can’t get their asses out of a train seat to save a woman from being raped. But I don’t have any to spare. My empathy goes to the woman whose value was grossly and publically ignored by her fellow human beings. We all believe that there is a certain safety in numbers. Now, thanks to these bystanders, we all have to consider the validity of that kind of belief.

I’m personally out of patience for this particular brand of human being—the kind of human being who doesn’t see themself as a true participant in this world. Who blends into their surroundings like a park bench. Who does about as much as a park bench, too. These are the kinds of human beings who may as well be wearing a name tag that says “just visiting,” for they have no true concerns about the world we have to live in, and even less for the kind of world we leave to future generations.

I’m frustrated with a society that continues to let us believe that “me, myself and I” are the three most important people in the world, a belief that creates passive, complacent, cowardly human beings who won’t step in to help a fellow human in need.

These human beings walk the planet without any sense of the mess they leave behind. They see themselves a step removed from other people’s pains and hardships. The only people they’d lift a finger for are those with the same last name.

Too many people don’t know who they are, or understand what they are living for, or know what they’d die for.

Generally speaking, these people aren’t the most “evil” people of a society, that’s a category I’ll save for the actual rapists and murderers and grifters. These bystanders are probably “regular” people who would say they believe rape is bad, would certainly cluck their tongues if they read about it online, and probably would never themselves engage in an act of rape.

And yet, watching others suffer and not doing anything about it is a sickness, too.

Their sickness arises because they don’t know who they are. Because they don’t know their values or have the will to fight for them.

And this hurts all of us.

Personal growth means nothing if it doesn’t feed collective growth.

When you don’t know yourself, then you don’t know anyone else, either.

  • If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love anyone else.
  • If you can’t care for yourself, you can’t care for anyone else.
  • And if you won’t speak up for yourself, then likely, you won’t speak up for anyone else, either.
  • If you don’t know your own inherent value, then how can you possibly see, and protect, the inherent value of others?

Too much of the self-help/personal growth world tells us that this work is important because it will help us claim our power, our voice, and our sovereignty. Too often, they fail to mention that we are supposed to use this found power, voice, and sovereignty to make the world a better place. It’s not supposed to be hoarded, or used to make us feel better than others. Rather, it’s supposed to help us see our unity.

The self-improvement industries, perhaps in an effort to “keep the peace”, or stay out of politics, or not offend anyone, have done a huge disservice by promoting personal growth for the self, not the community. Because this second part of the equation is so often brushed aside, many people believe that self-improvement is self-indulgent.

Personal growth, truly understood, is not the least bit self-indulgent, nor is it a vanity project. Because everything we believe about ourselves is eventually projected onto the society and those around us, becoming an engaged, active member of a community or society must begin at the level of the self. Think of it this way—if we believe we have little value, and that we are not worthy of safety, or access to clean water, or a fair wage, then why would we fight for others to have these things?

Individual personal growth is what births us into our fullest capacity as a member of human society.

These bystanders were probably not bystanding for the first time. They’ve probably been bystanding their whole lives. They’ve probably never offered much in the way of an opinion about anything. Their personality likely shifts to accommodate or please the people around them. They probably move through life on auto-pilot and reflex; having let their conditioning take them over.

They think of themselves, probably, as good citizens, unlikely to “cause trouble” or “make a scene.” Maybe they go to church, or say they love their children, or hold a good job. But if you can’t find the will to speak out when an atrocity is happening right before your very eyes, then I’m revoking your “I’m a good person” card.

Refusing to look in the mirror and remaining ignorant about who you are is not just about you not getting to “live life to the fullest” or “find your purpose” or any such things. Your unwillingness to look in the mirror and learn more about who you are makes you a lost cause to society as a whole.

If you don’t contemplate, question, dream, or feel your emotions, if you can’t imagine or even desire a better world, you aren’t contributing. You aren’t creating change. You‘re just taking up space.

You’re merely a status quo defender, a meek mouse, a placeholder of a human being.

If you are a grown-ass adult, but you still don’t have a handle on what matters to you, then, yes — either get going on Project “Look in the Mirror” or, as John Mellencamp sings in “Peaceful World”“If you’re not part of the future then get out of the way.”

Collective responsibility

Any grown-ass adult who simply watched this crime without lifting a finger (other than to press record) to help this woman doesn’t know who they are. They’ve done no work on themselves, and they don’t have a sense of what they believe, nor do they have a handle on their own personal power. How could they? If they had any sense of how powerful they could be, if they had any confidence in their voice and power, they could not stand aside as someone suffered.

More laws will not change our world for the better. That would likely only result in more passive bystanders, everyone afraid for themselves above all else. What we need, instead, is a society of people who care enough about themselves that it naturally flows to others. We need people who have invested in knowing who they are enough to use their power and strength in a world filled with far too many cowards.

Greater collective responsibility is the overflow of individual personal growth. First, we fill our own basin, and then we become a waterfall that serves others. Any teacher or personal growth advocate who doesn’t also teach the collective responsibility half of the equation is not only doing the entire world a disservice, they are complicit in the bystanding.

I once wrote an article in which I gave 10 reasons why we should all mix or personal/spiritual growth with politics (community engagement), and I guess now I can add an 11th: so we won’t sit around and watch when a woman is getting raped before our very eyes.

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