The Cornered Cat
Be a bad witness, or Curiosity killed the cat

Many years ago, my husband and I were at a mall when something happened. As we walked along the upper level, we heard shouting from down below. Looking over the railing, we saw two mall security guards and five or six law enforcement officers with rifles running, flat out, toward the other end of the mall on the lower level.

Bob and I looked at each other and without a word, we turned around and started moving — rapidly —  toward the exit, which was the opposite direction from the way the men with guns were moving.

When we turned around to head toward the exit, we saw something fascinating: there was a huge crowd of people following those guys who were clearly headed toward danger. The crowd was happy, enthralled, even enthusiastic. More than a few of them were towing their children along, “Hurry up, kids…”

People wanted to know what was going on. They wanted to know what was about to happen. They wanted to SEE WHAT WAS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!

To this day, I have no idea what happened in that mall. Whatever it was, it either never made the paper or we just missed seeing the report when we looked for it later.

But I know what didn’t happen: we did not get shot. We did not distract the people trying to solve the problem. We did not add to the chaos and confusion.

We simply left … efficiently.

Something I saw today brought that memory back to my mind with sharp focus. Watch, and you’ll see what I mean.


So, lessons from the headlines in the form of some questions.

1) How many people thought it was more important to capture the event on video than it was to get to safety?

2) How many people moved toward danger rather than away from it, without being fully committed to solving (or helping solve) the problem when they got there?

3) How many people were willing to abandon their luggage in order to get to safety?

4) How many people put themselves in danger or otherwise demanded the attention of the people working to solve the problem?

“Be a good witness” is lousy advice. We should instead be telling people to pay attention to what’s around them as they leave the area and head for safety.

We have to be okay, not knowing the end of the story. Sometimes, that’s what it takes to stay safe and keep our loved ones safe.


Link to Part 2:

3 Responses to Be a bad witness, or Curiosity killed the cat

  1. dehavik says:

    Thanks for posting the two recent videos of the abduction and the airport shooting. My favorite parts of your blog are the analyses of dangerous circumstances and the consequences (real or potential) of the actions of those found in them.
    When my husband was in law enforcement, he was frustrated with the dangers gawking bystanders put themselves, the officers, and other innocents into by not following officers’ commands to clear out, get down, move away, back up, etc.
    I understand it’s a natural reaction to witness and comprehend an accident or tragedy (like car wrecks) because our human nature insists we mentally catalog and analyze bad things that happen to others so we don’t repeat those mistakes, but during an incident is not the time!
    I appreciate the reminder.

  2. Daniel in Brookline says:

    It’s interesting, this human tendency to gawk at such things. I find it interesting, in this case, because it seems to include a lack of comprehension that one might oneself be in terrible danger.

    If you have a crowd of people, pressing in to get a closer look at a police incident, and then shots start flying in the general direction of the crowd, this lack of comprehension could reverse itself — and then we have a stampede. Not good.

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