Standing By or Standing Up - Bullying Series, post #8

(This blog post is part of a special series addressing the topic of bullying)

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” - Desmond Tutu

Have you ever heard the expression “innocent bystander”? It usually refers to someone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up being affected by something bad that occurs. For example, a person drives up to a bank as it is being robbed. The thief runs out the door and carjacks the “innocent bystander.” In a situation like this, there is not much the bystander can do.

However, not all bystanding is “innocent.” For example, in cases of injustice, when you have the ability and opportunity to help, is it really possible to be an innocent bystander? Can you stand by and do nothing, and not share some responsibility?

A bystander is considered an onlooker who does not get involved. In the carjacking example, this bystander was drawn into the situation – he got involved even though he did not want to. Other bystanders are witnesses to events and choose not to get involved. So the question is…which type of bystander is “innocent”? If you witness an event in which you could intervene, is it possible to remain unaffected and guiltless if you do nothing?

History provides many examples of individuals and groups who stood by and did nothing in the face of injustice. For example:

A crusader for civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” What does this quote mean to you? What does it mean to be silent about things that matter? How does that make our lives “begin to end”?

In the instance of bullying – if you see it happening, and it is safe for you to intervene, you can stop someone from getting hurt. Sometimes a simple re-direction of the situation can be highly effective. Research has shown that 95% of bullying will stop if someone takes the time to notice and say or do something.

In the next post of this bullying series, we will explore the “Bystander Effect” and what it means.

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