Should we need the Good Samaritan?

Should we need the Good Samaritan?

Should we need the Good Samaritan?


In this 21st century should we need the Good Samaritan or should we just rely on the professionals?

The story

Part of the landscaping in the centre of Bristol includes a line of huge ceramic balls. They provide decoration but also somewhere to sit (although not for long!). Nick and I were in town and had separately to go to different shops and as I walked past them I heard this dreadful, wailing noise. I looked behind me and a man, who appeared to be drunk, was lying on the ground with a bottle in his hand looking as if he had fallen from a ball.

I continued to walk. So did lots of others. All of us, looking back to check what was going on.

When Nick met up with me, he started to tell me about the man outside. I interrupted, told him I’d seen him and asked if someone had called the police. He said he hoped so they had as there were lots of people standing around watching the man, who was clearly in distress.

Neither of us did anything.

Should we have stopped?

What help would we offer? 

What stopped us?


Social conscience

If I was surveyed I would hope that if asked if I had a social conscience, I would say yes. 

Definition: social conscience


 a sense of responsibility or concern for the problems and injustices of society.
“the prisons were run by a board of people with a strong social conscience”
Now, the state of the prisons wouldn’t come high on my list of concerns although they would be on the list. How do I show my concerns for the problems and injustices? I give money to good causes with a monthly contribution as well as buying the Big Issue occasionally. I put my loose change into the pot for tips for the staff when I get a coffee. I’ve even ‘bought a coffee’ where you pay for two but just drink one, the other being in the bank for someone in need. But what else do I do? These are all ‘clean’ actions. I don’t see the distress, I just give some money for others to sort it which is my way of assuaging my guilt.

Whose responsibility is it?

We live in a country where we have a free health service supposedly; where people can get benefits to help them in difficult times possibly; where our philosophy is regarded across the world as being one to help those in need. This is put forward as the reason so many economic migrants want to come here. 

Now this is not a political post so please bear with me. Even if all those things were true and in place, there would still be people like the man on the ball and I would still walk past. If I had not been on my own I might have suggested calling someone but that is as far as my ‘Good Samaritan’ act would go I suspect. 

Human nature?

Is it something particularly British or something particular to me? I don’t think I’m the only one. Well, I know I’m not because there were others there. I’m not unfeeling but there are some things that I cannot do. When I was a headteacher, folks would chuckle that if the child was bleeding they came to me. If they’d been sick they went to my secretary. We both had an aversion to the other situation.

Is it fear of danger? Nowadays, with so many knives being carried and violence often seeming to be the only way out for the victim, helping can get you into difficulties. Often the police ask the public not to get involved as they can make a tense situation more difficult.

Is it is a case of minding your own business? It’s not my job, I’m not qualified to help, I’m not paid to do that? Surely, we do have a duty to our fellow human beings but how far should that duty go?

My experience today has shaken me and made me think and has left me asking myself

Is being a passive Good Samaritan enough?


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  • Julia, I love this post. I am just now reading it and finding it interesting that we sort of wrote about the same thing as I just wrote my post about “paying it forward.” Ultimately, I think it’s up to the individual. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to your question. For me, specifically, I would have stopped. However, I have experience in such situations as I have a background in law enforcement as well as the medical field. I am also not one to be frightened by others. That is just me. I know everyone else isn’t like me. So, as I said, I think it’s a question for each individual to ask themselves. No judgment involved!

    • Thanks for sharing Julie. You mentioned not being frightened because of your background and I think that is the key. Being confident you can help

  • catmichaelswriter

    What a tough call, Julia! Being alone as a petite woman, I would keep walking and alert the local police to come and investigate.

  • This is an interesting one. I think when there are a lot of people around I expect someone (who isn’t me) to be a ‘grown up’ and sort these kinds of situations.
    I’ve found someone looking unwell/probably drunk by a bus stop outside my house and felt like I had to do something to help them as there wasn’t anyone else about.

  • Difficult decisions Julia, if it was a woman, would it be different? If there was no bottle?

  • It is hard to say what is a good time or not. Measuring the situation can also be different for most. Thinking how you can help or give more harm. This is a good topic and one that will keep me thinking.

  • This was very thought provoking, Julia. It’s also something I really Struggle with for different reasons. I work in the central business district of Cape Town. You would not believe the level of poverty in our city. There are an equal number of people who do ok. Normal people like me. Everyday on my walk to work from the bus stop, leaving my building for lunch and going home in the evenings I have adults and children of all ages with a hand out asking for money to feed themselves. I do help when I have change with me but it is so overwhelming with people begging every few feet you walk, sometimes with babies on their arms. What can we do? The general attitude of people here are that you can’t help everybody and there are shelters they can go to. People are desensitized and my colleagues actually get angry when I try to offer money. They say you cannot help them all because where will it stop. Also that we all have families to feed. But I’m telling you, walking past a young child on the street while I am wearing a fancy suit and have a full tummy is so heartbreaking and disturbing. I’m sorry for the long post but I know exactly how you feel. We are worrying about our humanity 🙁

    • Many thanks for sharing your concerns, Anthea. It is heartbreaking but we can’t help them all. I also struggle with wondering if some could actually help themselves.

  • Very thought provoking. Sorry the experience has shaken you.

  • pauldavissolutions

    Hey Julia,
    It is so difficult to offer help, but I think it is definitely worth it at times. While we feel threatened by knives, or even guns here in America, I have found that there is rarely an event that cannot be diffused by calm thinking and other focused action. I remember handing hot chocolate out on the streets of Vancouver, Canada when a man pulled a knife, held it to his throat and asked me why God wouldn’t let him kill himself.
    I knew enough to know he was strung out on something. I also knew that at that point I ceased being a good Samaritan and had become a trigger for this violent episode. So I walked away. I didn’t call the police or attempt to do anything else, and when I walked by later the man was more relaxed and sitting some other street people.
    Sometimes the best thing we can do is walk away.

    • Many thanks for sharing Paul. It is the ‘not knowing’ that is so hard I think. We see more of the distressed of society on our streets compared to years ago. We now need to think about how we can best support. Thanks again!

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