Oregon Aglink Blog

Beyond the Bystander Effect

Posted on January 3, 2019

By Mallory Phelan

Having just wrapped up the biggest giving season of the year, we have probably all seen the ads and posts soliciting donations for humanitarian aid work in another country or a crowd-funding campaign for someone on social media. With the 24-hour news cycle and collective knowledge of humanity at our fingertips, there is never a shortage of demands on our attention and hearts.

Have you ever felt bad but kept scrolling? Thought about getting your credit card but changed the channel? I know that I have.

Of course the crisis of a natural disaster or a family’s GoFundMe account is worthy of our attention, but our funds, time, and emotional bandwidth are limited. We have to pick and choose our causes, and sometimes that is made easier when we can assume “someone else will do it.” The assumption that someone else will is the very basis for the social psychological phenomenon called the bystander effect: individuals are less likely to offer help when others are present, a diffusion of responsibility, which can result in apathy.

I’m fascinated by what makes people commit to a cause, act upon their conviction, and the tipping point of when taking action matters to them personally. It’s easy to join in on collective input like cheering at a sporting event. There can be 20,000 people in an arena and the roar of the crowd builds upon the involvement of others. As an industry, it’s so easy to cheer on one another in our own industry functions such as Denim & Diamonds, Oregon Seed League, or the Oregon Women for Ag auction. It’s trickier to get more of the hundreds of people at those social and networking events to show up at the Capitol to testify, participate in Adopt a Farmer, or even sit on commissions and association boards.

As humans we naturally prioritize, some of us better than others, and we have to. We simply cannot do it all. We’ve got to be careful not put off getting involved because it’s not urgent enough…yet. You’ve probably heard, if you don’t show up, someone else will and you might not like what they think or believe. Every time the Oregon legislature commences, we’re reminded of how important the work we do in between sessions is in engaging with our non-farming and ranching neighbors near and far.

As an organization, we have people show up for us every day – from our board of directors and event volunteers, to our committee members and adopted farmers – we have some of the best in the industry working with us to fulfill our mission of growing Oregon agriculture through education and promotion. We also have committed members whose dues help sustain us monetarily. Without the actions of so many, we would not have the impact we do in the lives of hundreds of students and their perceptions of Oregon agriculture every year.

The saying “many hands make light work” holds true to the work of engaging consumers about how their food and fiber is produced. Whether you make resolutions or not, I challenge you to join me in carrying the season of giving throughout the year and look for ways to join in, give your time and resources in the best way you see fit. It matters that we all show up. The days of “put our heads down and keep on trucking” are gone – the organizations collectively working to create progress in our industry depend on your involvement. The more folks connected to agriculture get involved in engaging with consumers, the better we can minimize the bystander effect and benefit our industry as a whole.