SeeWhoYoureLettingDown YKTTW Discussion

They don't want to help until they meet the person who needs them.
(permanent link) added: 2011-04-14 08:46:05 sponsor: Scarab (last reply: 2015-03-17 18:46:36)

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Humans have a great ability to empathize with their fellow man, but this usually depends on us being provided with something to identify with. Even something as simple as giving someone a name gives us something familiar to latch onto but complete strangers we've never even met are somewhat harder to empathize with.

This Trope deals with a specific scenario in fiction where an individual has been asked for help, usually by people he's never met, and refuses for whatever reason (usually selfish but not necessarily -they may just have more important things to deal with at the time) only to do a Heel-Face Turn when they actually see the situation first hand, see that there's actual suffering involved with real people which they can do something about.

Basically this trope is Comes Great Responsibility without the power necessarily having to be great. In fact it's usually quite mundane: maybe they're just in possession of something the heroes need or can give a specific order of some kind. The problem can be just about anything. A war, a super villain trashing the character's hometown, a complete stranger they've never heard of being terribly ill. It doesn't matter precisely what the situation is, provided that the root of the problem involves somebody (an individual or a group) being in trouble and a complete stranger being the only one who has the ability to help out.

After trying unsuccessfully for a while to convince the character to help them via any means possible (bribery, blackmail or just plain begging included), eventually, somebody will burst out with "Okay, you won't help us! Fine! But I'm going to show you exactly who you're letting down!" and drag the character, usually against their will, to see the problem for themselves.

The character suddenly sees the downtrodden villagers suffering in the slums after a military attack, the thousands of homeless people in the Soup Kitchen, the sick child dying, and is struck with horror at their own blaseness. The Rule of Empathy kicks in. Suddenly they're not dealing with faceless nobodies or a statistic anymore. The character still knows absolutely nothing about this situation, but they will agree to help out in whatever way they can.

This character may be a protagonist but is more often a one shot character who will never be seen again afterwards.


  • Knight Rider. In one episode of the original series a street thug nearly chickens out of the Bone Marrow Donation that will save a little girl's life -until Michael angrily drags him into the hospital and he meets the girl for himself.
  • My Little Pony A little elf girl, Maeve, refuses to part with the magical flight-granting horseshoe that is her favourite toy until they take her to meet Mimic; who will die unless Maeve gives her the horseshoe back.
  • This is one of the methods of charities. They create adverts that focus on specific individuals in dire need and emphasize the ability of the general public to help these people via relatively simple means. By giving us specific people to focus on it's easier to encourage action than just reading a statistic about, say, the number of people who die of Malaria every year.

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