No really: What Would You Do?

What would you do

“What would you do?” appears to be a popular question. When you enter the phrase in the Google search engine, over 917 million results are listed.

At the top of the list is the site This link directs folks to the ABC series, “What Would You Do?” The 9 p.m. Friday evening program is both an in-depth study of ethics and human nature, and an intriguing look at how ordinary people react when confronted with societal issues like sexual harassment, theft, bullying, domestic violence, racism, hazing, etc.

This is not a new question for journalists to consider. In the early 1950s, aspiring writer Jacqueline Lee Bouvier authored a column for the Times-Herald in Washington. In an indirect way, young Jackie sometimes asked her readers, “What Would You Do?” Jackie and John Kennedy

For example, one specific piece questioned, “Would you rescue a great artist who is a scoundrel, or a commonplace, honest family man?” Later, this budding journalist would become Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy, our nation’s First Lady. It is Jackie’s question about human responsibility posed back then, that apparently still interests TV viewers today. For instance, in some episodes of the ABC show viewers are asked, “What would you do?” if you saw two lifeguards getting drunk in the middle of their shift? Or what about intervening, if you observed a man slipping a drug into his date’s drink? Would you react in the same way, if his date was dressed seductively? What would you do about a baby locked in a hot car?

According to an Associated Press article titled, “TV show uses hidden cameras to expose attitudes” by TV writer David Bauder, the show’s producer Chris Whipple got the idea for the series from “The Ethicist” column in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. “There was an immediate response in the ratings after Primetime carried the first segment in 2004 with an actor portraying a babysitter verbally abusing a boy in a park,” according to Bauder. Five hour-long segments were produced in 2008 anchored by veteran broadcaster John Quinones, who originally joined ABC News in 1982. The program quickly soared in the ratings, and devoted fans continue to watch.

In the nineties, Nickelodeon had their own version of “What Would You Do?” While, other viewers might find the ABC series similar to the comedic TV show, “Candid Camera,” but its content is not as amusing, as it is revealing. Although there are some humorous moments and less serious subjects featured in ABC’s “What Would You Do?” For example, one classic show featured two wedding crashers, who were at times engaging, and at other times, blatantly rude, resulting in some pretty good laughs.

But it is not the chuckles that impress me. It is observing human nature at its very best when a heroic soul intervenes on behalf of a stranger facing some kind of injustice. It is also observing humanity at its worst, because onlookers often turn their apathetic heads away, and allow individuals being mistreated to suffer alone. Besides, when people react on hidden camera, they have no idea anyone is watching.

One standard of commonsense ethics can be found in the universal acceptance of the Bible’s Golden Rule which states, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 NIV) Similarly, in a spiritual sense, the show is reminiscent of the timeless classic by Charles Sheldon, In His Steps: What would Jesus do? Written in 1896, the allegorical work is one of the best-selling books of all time.

In His Steps - Barbour books edition

In His Steps – Barbour books edition

Wikipedia explains that in Sheldon’s book, “…many of the novel’s characters [are] asking, ‘What would Jesus do?’ when faced with decisions of some importance.” Sheldon lived in the pages of his own book, confronting poverty, educational disparity, and racism first hand.

In the 1990’s, the motto, “WWJD?” became a popular phrase in our country adorning bracelets and bumper stickers everywhere. After all, people need a role model for the behavior that they embrace when confronted with an unfair circumstance.

As for the ABC show, I’ll bet Jesus would have had something to say about the episode where a blind woman was unjustly shortchanged by a bakery cashier. Yet I’m not sure He would have loudly and repeatedly told the obnoxious clerk to “shut up” like an intervening male customer did. Still, in his own way, the righteously indignant man really was a knight in shining armor trying to assist a vision-impaired damsel in distress. But the real question is not what he did, but, “What would you do?”

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. Contact her at