A Bitter Reflection

I failed to do the right thing today.

I was walking home. I live near a middle school and an elementary school, so depending on when I get off the train, I occasionally run into a ton of students on my way home. Tonight, that was the case, so I was wading upstream against a flow of uniformed school students for most of the walk.

Not too far from the station, I pass by a little parking lot. Tonight, as I approached, I saw a bit of a scuffle. It looked like a boy—about middle school age–had another boy in a headlock, and as I got closer, I realized that was exactly the case. As I watched momentarily, another boy came by and pushed the victim down and sat on him.

People were all around, yet nobody did anything. And I knew it was wrong and that the kid was getting tormented, yet after watching for a minute and trying to weigh my options, I chickened out and walked away.

I can try to justify it to myself. My brain was trying to come up with excuses the whole way home. I don’t know a lot of Japanese, so what if the bullies started talking to me? I’m an obvious foreigner, what if I got in more trouble than I could handle and couldn’t explain my way out of it? I’m quite unimposing physically—what if they had tried to take the fight to me? And what if by interfering, I actually made it worse later for the victim? I came up with a million excuses by the time I got to my front door.

Except none of them are worth shit. Plain and simple, I failed at doing the right thing. I stopped, I gawked and tried to decide, and ultimately chose to walk on by and let the boy get tormented.

What do you do in this situation? Months of looking through the AKP predeparture materials didn’t prepare me for this. Reading articles about culture shock didn’t make a difference. However helpless I may feel in this culture, it shouldn’t have prevented me from doing the right thing. I could have just shouted, “ダメ!” (dame – stop). I could have just yelled, “Oi!” I could have walked over and asked them what the heck they thought they were doing.

I did none of them, and in doing so, I was the guilty bystander that I’ve never wanted to be.

I’ve always thought of this study abroad experience as another chance to figure out who I am and refine that person. Tonight, I’m thoroughly disappointed with the type of person I showed myself to be.

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2 Comments

  1. Mom

    Disappointment in oneself is a bitter pill, indeed.
    I am proud of you for taking the time to examine the experience– I am certain though that you learned a bit more about how to live with integrity and clarity and a heart to do what is right.
    Love you..

  2. Joe

    Excuses are not necessary, Spencer. What is valuable is that you looked in the mirror, and came away knowing a bit more about yourself. How many of us would have done the same thing, even here in the culture we have lived in our entire being, let alone in a very different culture.

    Keep examining life, keep writing.

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