Caught in the Crowd


Would you consider yourself a good person? I want you to be truly honest with yourself. Looking at your relationships, values, actions, thoughts and the motives of your heart, would you say you were “on the whole” good? Chances are, you probably do consider yourself a good person. You try to get along with others, don’t go out of your way to cause people pain, you care about your friends and family and want the best for them, and always try to show kindness to strangers. You don’t seek violence, war, terror or disagreement but instead would prefer to see the world at peace. You are, on the whole, a good person. Almost everyone is. So . . . why do so many bad things still happen in this world?

Living with regret
There was a song that I used to listen to when I was a teenager called, “Caught in the Crowd” which made me get emotional every time I listened to it. The song tells the story of a teenage girl who started to befriend a social outcast at school named James. She was a good person and decided to show kindness to someone in need. One afternoon three bullies knocked James down to the ground with the intention of beating him up. As James looks around to find someone to help him, he sees this girl—his new friend—and calls out to her for help. But instead of coming to his rescue, she turns away in fear and embarrassment, pretending not to hear him and walks in the other direction. The chorus of the song is her heartfelt apology to James, years later, wishing she could go back in time and make a different choice. Her words are steeped with remorse, regret and shame: “I was young and caught in the crowd, I didn’t know then what I know now, I was dumb, and I was proud, and I’m sorry. If I could go back, do it again, I’d be someone you could call friend. Please, please, believe that I’m sorry.”

There is a heartbreaking truth found in these lyrics: sometimes good people cause real pain by simply doing nothing; by neglecting to do the right thing. The harsh reality is, being a “good person” at heart accomplishes nothing if you choose to do nothing. Why is there so much pain in this world? Because the battle against evil is simply not being fought by good people—and so pain, suffering, bullying, racism and injustice continues. This echoes the famous saying by Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”


A man of conviction
One man who understood this in the core of his being was William Wilberforce. He was an ordinary man with utmost integrity who actively fought to end slavery right across the British Empire, despite the strong tide of popular opinion and economic pressure. Because he fought to do something good, the whole world has forever been changed for the better.

During the 1700s when Wilberforce was just a teenager, English traders would raid the African coast on the Gulf of Guinea and capture between 35,000 and 50,000 African people every year as slaves. These individuals would be shipped in the most degrading and inhumane conditions across the Atlantic Ocean and sold into slavery. Men were chained together and forced to lie shoulder-to-shoulder in the hull of the ship, while women were usually left unchained. During the voyage, which would take around seven weeks, they were typically only fed once or twice a day, and were only brought up on deck for limited times during during the voyage—to prevent escape and suicide attempts. Inside the hold of the ship, urine, vomit, faeces and all other bodily excretions lined the floor they lay on, and between 10 and 25 per cent of those on board died from malnutrition, dysentery, measles, scurvy, smallpox—and other diseases resulting from their horrible “living” conditions.

There’s money in misery
Slavery was a very profitable business that many wealthy and powerful people had become dependent upon. It was even popularly believed that the slave trade was absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the British economy and for the trading of “essential” goods to England. And so, this abhorrent behaviour continued for decades, unquestioned and unchallenged.

That is, until Wilberforce. At 21 years of age, Wilberforce became the member of parliament for Hull in 1780. And within just a few short years, Wilberforce began to work towards the abolition of slavery across British trade. It was no easy undertaking, as he was essentially seeking to bring down one of the most lucrative and profitable industries in the whole British Empire. On a number of occasions, Wilberforce was tempted to give up politics and pursue a religious life. But Wilberforce understood the stakes at hand. If he did not fight “the good fight” in Parliament to free enslaved people across the British Empire, no-one would. It was too daunting a task and only a “fool” would attempt such a feat. But year after year, Wilberforce lobbied for the abolition of the slave trade. For 18 years, Wilberforce tirelessly introduced new anti-slavery motions to Parliament, each one to be knocked back or rejected.

(Above: The House of Commons in Wilberforce’s time)

Faithful to the end
But this would not deter him and in 1807, after nearly 20 years of campaigning, Wilberforce’s anti-slavery bill was finally passed and the Slave Trade Act 1807 became legislation. This law banned British people from engaging in the slave trade, though it did not ban slavery itself. Unsatisfied with this result, Wilberforce continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery across the entire British Empire. On July 26, 1833, as Wilberforce lay on his deathbed, the Slavery Abolition Bill was passed by Parliament, granting freedom to all enslaved people across the British Empire. Wilberforce passed away three days later.

There was no direct or personal need for Wilberforce to fight so valiantly and desperately for the abolition of slavery. He was not a slave, nor were any of his close friends or immediate family. But he considered those who were slaves to be his brothers and sisters in Christ—and in that way, his need was personal and direct. Their needs were his needs, and their struggles he made his own. Wilberforce once said, “Let it not be said that I was silent when they needed me.” What a powerful display of integrity and character—committing to stand up for and stand with the oppressed and downtrodden when all others were silent.

Wilberforce also said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” This world has sorrow, pain, suffering, cruelty and injustice, but you can do something about it. The battle against evil only requires us to take a stand rather than to do nothing; to not look away when we see wrong. Aspiring to be like Wilberforce and make a difference doesn’t mean you need to do something as tremendous as his accomplishments, but what you can do is refuse to be silent when you see the needs of others. Don’t live a life of regret like the girl from the song, but be a good person in action. When you see injustice, get involved. When you see heartache, offer compassion. When you hear of struggles, lend a hand. The biggest change in the world starts with everyday people like you and I when we choose to do something, rather than nothing.

Olivia Fairfax is an eager student in all things psychology, theology and literature She enjoys spending her time writing, learning and investing in people.

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