In the rural Iowa farm community where I was raised, there’s no such thing as “privacy”; the neighbors know when husband and wife are fighting; they know when the daughter comes home past curfew and they know where every toddler belongs, should he wander away from home. It used to bother me to think that nothing escapes the neighbors. But, after reading about what happened in New York City this week, I’m glad I’m surrounded by helpful, “nosey” Iowans.

In case you haven’t heard about it, a homeless man ran to the aid of a woman who was being mugged. This “Good Samaritan” was stabbed by the mugger, and a brief chase ensued. The “Good Samaritan”, identified as Hugo Tale-Yax, only made it a few steps before crumbling to the sidewalk. While he lay there bleeding to death, 25 New Yorkers walked by. The whole thing was captured on security videotape.

One guy took cell phone pictures of the dying man, then walked away. Another stopped to move him, saw a pool of blood, then scurried away. No one called. No one helped. Two hours later, Hugo was dead. Why? Apparently, no one thought it was “any of their business” to interfere. Equally tragic, it’s not an isolated incident in big cities. These types of crimes, witnessed by crowds who don’t come to the aid of the victim, have happened before.

Doctors, sociologists (and smart people with a lot of letters behind their names) call it “Bystander Syndrome” It’s apparently a “group think” behavior that immobilizes people, detaches them from the injured person and all sense of human decency. I say it wouldn’t happen here in Iowa; at least, it wouldn’t happen in my home town.

Maybe it’s our agrarian roots that have instilled those timeless values in us, but here in Iowa, we have farmers who work late into the night to help a widow harvest her late husband’s corn crop, or plow out long lanes of snow for stranded school buses. We have strangers who pull an injured teen from a burning car: and construction workers who lower themselves into a raging river to rescue a drowning woman: The list goes on and on.

But it’s not just those types of heroics that make me glad I live here. It’s the helpful, honest, straight-shooting, polite, “please with a pickle on top” nature of people who aren’t numbed by living in a crowded city that’s populated with folks who need invisible “space” and don’t make eye contact. When you stroll in downtown Des Moines (the state’s largest city), you can smile at someone and they smile back. You can trip on the sidewalk and someone’s Grandma stops by to see if you’re okay. You can ask for directions at just about any gas station (unless you’re a guy…but that’s another column!).

Yes, Iowans are “nosey”. And we should all thank our lucky stars for that one.

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.