Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Did You See That?

The third role in the bully tragedy is the bystander. These people participate in ways they may not even be aware, both actively and passively. Active bystanders encourage the bully through words and/or actions. Bystanders are at high risk for becoming bullies themselves and they may not even be aware of what they do or say that may be a part of the problem. Passive bullies encourage the bully (also) through words and/or actions (or lack there-of). 
            Let’s be perfectly clear. There are no innocent bystanders. They can be disengaged on-lookers, believing what is happening is none of their business. They may even want to help the target, but they determine the risk is too great to their own safety or the safety of someone they care for. Regardless of what appear to be legitimate reasons for keeping quiet or staying out of the situation, they are a part of the problem. It is, in part, for this reason that bullying is a cultural issue.  And until bystanders take action to stop the bullying the will continue to poison the environment. In the book The Bully, The Bullied, and The Bystander, an excerpt regarding the stand the Danes took against the horrifying Nazis when they invaded Denmark is an emotionally rendering plea to the moral fabric of humanity. Then seventeen-year-old Preben Munch-Nielson wrote of his decision to defy the Gestapo:
            You can’t let people down. You can’t turn the back to people who need your help. There must be some sort of decency in a man’s life, and it wouldn’t have been decent to turn one’s back. So there’s no question of why or why not. You just did. That’s the way you’re brought up. You help, of course. Could you have retained your self-respect if you knew that these people would suffer had you said, “No, not at my table?” No. No way. So that’s not a problem. You just have to do it.  
This quote (posted at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.) is about a small group of fisherman (of which Preben was a part) who, with the help of others smuggled over 7,000 Danish Jews out of Denmark to safety in small fishing boats and then, in the middle of the channel, larger Swedish ships. The account of how this was accomplished is amazing.
            Chances are if a child is neither the bully nor the target he/she is a bystander.  Consider the word “bystander”. According to www.dictionary.com it means a person who is present but not involved; a chance spectator; onlooker. Compare that to “witness” which, according to the same source means to testify to or bear witness to. While the difference in wording may be subtle, the difference in implication cannot be emphasized enough.  To be a witness, a person needs to pay attention, get involved, and never look away.  Encourage children, through both words and actions, to act on behalf of others in need. Discuss with them what it is like to go against the grain. Empathize with them in difficult decisions regarding the fear someone feels when a scary situation arises and they find themselves faced with getting involved. Our children need to recognize bullying, refuse bullying, and then report bullying (Steps to Respect bully prevention program).  It is most often necessary for an adult to intervene to stop serious bullying so the reporting step is critical.  Telling an adult is quite a risk, however, and adults must take the information reported seriously and confidentially. Bullying thrives on secrecy and exposing it is key in fighting it. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in one of his many powerful speeches:
            Cowardice asks the question: is it safe?
                  Expedience asks the question: it is politic?
                  Vanity asks the question: is it popular?
But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular…but one must take it because it is right.

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