Host of the ABC show “What Would You Do?” John Quinones visited UNC Charlotte to speak to students regarding his life, TV show and the by-stander effect, which is the premise behind his show.
The show “What Would You Do?” uses hidden cameras to document how common people react to moral dilemmas. Whether they decide to intervene or to simply walk away is entirely their decision. Once the scene is over, Quinones interviews the by-stander to find out what was going through their mind as they were confronted with the decision.
“What Would You Do?” first aired eight years ago and a new season is set to premier in January. It will bring brand new scenarios as well as all new locations. The show has primarily been filmed in New York, but now, Quinones is taking the show on the road. Quinones points out that the place where people live can often be a heavy influence on how they might react to certain situations.
Why have you chosen to speak to UNC Charlotte students?
Well I love the fact that UNC Charlotte institute had a by-stander initiative. One day of talking about what students would do at this campus, they did it in October, if they saw an injustice or a discrimination or racism and they studied this whole phenomena of by-stander involvement and that’s what my show is all about.
So I’m really glad that I’m coming here to a school that not only knows about this, but puts it into practice. In fact, they had a bit of a seminar here with this by-stander initiative to talk about what we should do. So I love that, I love talking about the show and I love getting ideas from young people. I met with some of the 49er students this afternoon and we talked about ideas that they have for the show.
I want to motivate them with my own story and remind them that anything is possible. My high school counselors, when I would ask them about college, they would say “Well John, it’s great that you have this idea, but we think you should try woodshop or metal shop or auto mechanics.” Not that there is anything wrong with those trades, but I wanted to go to college.
They saw me just by the color of my skin and the accent in my voice. I’m here to tell the kids not to fall for that; don’t listen to the negative messages that society often gives us as young people.
What are you hoping students can take away from your speech?
When it comes to being inspired, I hope that they realize, again that if I could do it, then their struggles might pale in comparison and of course, anything is obtainable if you put your mind to it. With regard to doing the right thing, I’m going to show them a couple of clips from the show and I hope they touch their hears with the goodness we see often on my TV show, with strangers stepping in to help another stranger.
It really does restore your faith in humanity. I want the students in the audience tonight to be touched by that and remember that there is a lot of good out there in this world. Just when we think that we are ready to give up on humanity, along comes a hero and we see it in everyone one of our “What Would You Do?”
But I’m sure that you’ve seen plenty of cases of people not necessarily doing the right thing?
Yeah and that’s what happens. It makes those heroes all the more heroic, right? For a long time, we’ll be sitting there, watching a child getting bullied or a women or man being made fun of because of their weight. You sit there and sometimes an hour will go by and no one steps in to help. It’s frustrating. It reminds us that despite all the progress we’ve made in this country with all kinds of issues, there is still work to be done.
Why is it so important to know the dangers of the by-stander effect?
The experts tell us, you know, social psychologists, we consult them for our show and they tell us that most of us don’t want to get involved when we see something troubling. A large majority of us would rather just keep on our way and not get involved and it’s almost as if we are waiting for somebody to take the first step and raise their voice because we don’t want to do it. But, when someone does that, it’s as if the rest of us are given permission.
Now I can complain, now I can yell, now I can correct the injustice. That’s why it is so important for someone, anyone to sound the alarm because then other people might join in and they usually do join in.
Having said that, we never say that you should get involved physically. If somebody is being harmed, you could be in danger too so we don’t try to judge and tell people to get personally involved. The best advice we have, if it’s a dangerous situation, you can go to a safe distance from the action and call the police. Many times, that’s the best thing we can do because it’s not always wise to step into something that could prove dangerous to you. So it’s tough. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to make a call to the authorities.
After you have your Q&A from the audience, you will be signing copies of your new book. Do you mind telling me a little about your book?
No, of course not. It’s really dedicated to my mother, who was the most compassionate women in the world that I ever met. We didn’t have much, we were poor, but our door was always open thanks to my mother to people in trouble and people in need.
Whether it was an abused women who showed up at our door step or a runaway child or an injured animal, my mom was the most compassionate person and tried to heal the wounds whether they be physical or emotional. In many ways, I was in training to write this kind of book and to do this kind of TV show by what I saw her do. So the book is about that, it’s about the show and it’s also about who steps in and who doesn’t and how important that is to sound that alarm.
I write about some of my favorite scenarios that we’ve done on my TV show and of course I talk about my own life. We’re all products of our upbringing and I talk about how my dream as a young kid, despite tremendous odds, my dream to someday be on television and tell amazing stories.
Through your show, what do you see as being the changing ethics of America?
I like to think that there is goodness in everyone; people generally aren’t bad, they’re just hesitant in getting involved because of any number of things. They may see a danger there, they may be so introverted that they’re not the kind of person that speaks up, but I think that it is changing for the better and I think that our TV show, by the way, is having a small roll in all of that.
Many times when I come out and break the scene and I tell folks that it’s just a TV show, they look at me and I’ll ask those people why they stepped in and they’ll say, “Because I watch your show and I told my kids if I ever saw something troubling like that, I would be the one to step in.”
So we’re making a little impact, I think, in all of that, and I love the fact that families watch the show together. Every day, someone will come up to me and say that they watch the show with their kids and that we bring up subjects that they don’t want to talk about but because we bring them up on television, then it allows them the opportunity to talk about it.
Every time we see something on the show and we see someone not stepping in it reminds us that despite all the progress we’ve made in this country, and there has been a lot of progress, that we’re reminded every time that we do the show there is still work to be done and that is a great cause to be involved in. To try to shine the light, with our cameras, shine the light on issues that we still need to work on as a nation.
So you would say that your show definitely helps to teach good moral value?
Yeah. At least it opens the conversation. We try not to judge, I try not to say “This person did the right thing” and “This person did the wrong thing.” We leave that up to the audience watching. When someone doesn’t get involved and I interview them afterwards, I try really hard not to criticize them or judge them or condemn them. It’s not easy to step in.
When will your show be back on the air?
The show will be back in January on ABC network. It is not on the air right now, but we expect that it will be back on the air in January, and certainly by the summer we are going to have a brand new season with brand new scenarios and this time, we’re taking it on the road because we film a lot in the New York area.
The beauty of living in big cities is that we all get to meet someone like that and once that ignorance is destroyed, you’re much more accepting of those people because you know they are just like us, with a few little differences. The fact is that we all bleed the same color blood and we’re all human.