Food for Thought – How to Take a Stand? Sometimes We Must Interfere.

It’s easy to champion the cause of a community of people far removed from us. It’s significantly riskier to stand up against acts of prejudice or bias when it is happening within our closer circles.  We risk being outcast or ostracized by our own social group. But would it help you to know that 75-95% (Luxenberg et al., 2015) of people in schools disagree with bullying?  

It’s true; the vast majority of onlookers empathize and want to take action. If all supporters wore a sign we would be able to see our “Allies” and the strength in numbers. Unfortunately, we don’t wear big signs, so the risk of standing up feels huge. How can we rise to the occasion and manage the risk at the same time? Here are a few suggestions:

  • When you see someone engaging in harmful behavior, a simple, “Hey, not cool!” or “I don’t think so” is appropriate. Then walk away. Invite the injured party to leave with you.
  • When you know that someone has been harmed, it’s completely appropriate to say, “I’m really sorry that happened to you. I don’t agree with them.” Support can be empowering and uplifting for a person that has been harmed. It helps to know that someone cares and is willing to take your side.  
  • When you hear gossip, avoid participating. You could even ask, “If this is how you talk about her when she’s not here, what do you say about me when I’m not around.” It could be risky to ask, but if they do it to one person, are they doing it to others? Is this a friend you trust?
  • When you hear a biased joke, don’t laugh. You may be tempted and it takes practice not to give in to the darker side of humor sometimes. But consider if the object of the joke were your sister, your dad, or your own child, would it still be funny?
  • When you see a derogatory or defamatory post, don’t share it. Not even to show others how wrong it is.  Forwarding negative comments rewards the originator. Consider whether you need to share with the one who was harmed. Instead report to those in authority who can remove the post, address the offense, and hold the originator accountable.
  • Enlist the support of others you trust. You do not need to approach risk alone.  Every good lifeguard knows that deep water or open water rescue is safer with appropriate equipment and a team of rescuers! Standing up to harmful social behavior can also be risky.  Stand together; stand as a group; stand with people you trust.
  • Say to people, “I respect you, but I disagree with what you are doing.” You don’t have to challenge the person or ask them to stop or sacrifice the relationship. Just absent yourself from the activity.
  • One last suggestion. My mother reminded me often that one simple tactic is to suddenly glance at your watch, express surprise, and concern, and exclaim, “Oh, my gosh! Is that the time?!??  Gotta go!” and then just bounce. You haven’t offended anyone, but you’ve chosen not to support the behavior. And if you do that every time your friends, family, classmates, or colleagues get sarcastic or rude, they’ll soon get the message that you just won’t participate in dehumanizing others.

I close with words from Elie Wiesel who understood that we must protect each other. If we don’t, the potential long term consequences are unsustainable.  

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

Article by Frances “Pinkie” Weesner
Harmony At Home
Bullying Prevention Program Manager