Last week I went to the mall to meet a friend for lunch and do some Christmas shopping. Unfortunately, my friend had a family emergency and couldn’t make it for lunch, but I had several stores to visit so I carried on. 45 minutes later, loaded with bags and feeling gratified that I’d managed to find everything I was looking for, I exited the Target store into the center of the mall, right next to a Starbucks.
As I walked out of the store, my mind on other things, I happened to notice a small puddle of water on the floor right in my path. Just as the puddle registered in my consciousness, I stepped in it. My leg went sliding forward and I fell down on my backside in a very undignified fashion. After a moment of surprise, I gathered myself and stood up.
Just as I was continuing on my way, my eyes connected with those of a man sitting perhaps twenty feet away in one of the chairs at Starbucks. It was obvious that he had witnessed the fall. It was unclear whether any of the dozens of other people in my vicinity had noticed my fall. All I know is that no one asked me if I was all right or attempted to help.
Reflecting back on this experience, it had a dreamlike quality, almost as if I was invisible to everyone around me. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt at all and the whole experience had such a strange feel to it that my pride wasn’t even wounded. Mostly, I was left with a sense of curiosity: Was I truly invisible to the other people at the mall? If so, did that have to do with my age, my gender, the way I was dressed? Or were the other people around me so distracted by their own preoccupations that they didn’t even notice? Was there something about the setting that worked against someone coming to my assistance? For example, if I’d been in an airport, would someone have been more likely to help? (I’ve actually experienced numerous acts of civility in airports, so I have some data to support that hypothesis.) And what about the man who actually did witness my fall, what kept him from coming over to me?
What would you have done if you’d observed someone falling at the mall?