Editor’s note: This editorial received the 2016-17 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence regional award as a finalist in the Online Opinion & Commentary category Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards. Her entries “Trump threatens safety of undocumented immigrants“; “Slavery has not ended“; “Do not be a bystander“
Bystander. You have heard the word: in classes, discussions, speakers or on the news. You know what it means…kind of. It is someone who stands by and witnesses something bad take place and does nothing.
You think to yourself, I am not a bystander. If I ever saw something inappropriate or dangerous happening, I would step in. I would stop it.
You are wrong. Think back. Have you ever heard an uncomfortable conversation and thought to yourself, ‘Ooh that sounds bad’ or ‘This is uncomfortable.’ Did you step in? Probably not. Like most people, you probably thought to yourself, ‘It’s really none of my business’ or ‘They should work this out on their own.’
Eventually you go about your day and within an hour or two, the whole encounter is put out of your mind. You are busy thinking about your own life, your own problems or even what you will be having for dinner that night. After all, there is nothing you could have done to stop it, right?
Wrong again. While you went on with your day as normal, that situation that you overheard and brushed off after a bit of discomfort got worse. It went from uncomfortable comments to yelling, from yelling to physical violence, from physical violence to any number of unthinkable outcomes. And that is just one of many ways the situation could go wrong.
Your simple, ‘Is everything okay here?’ could have been the point where a victim finally shared her fear with someone, or simply could confirm that you were right and the situation was harmless. But now you will never know, will you?
Do not be ashamed. Non-action in these situations is common. Psychology Today even talks about the bystander effect, literally the theory that the more people are around during the situation, the less likely one is to intervene. Because if nobody else around you is stepping in, why should you? It is not your situation and you are not the only bystander here.
But this is not the way to be. Do not step aside just because others are doing the same. Be a leader. The least you can do, and really all that you have to do to make a difference, is to just speak up. Do not ignore what is happening, but take notice. Take action. Speak up.
One afternoon a young woman named Amanda, newly pregnant and slightly showing, was in a public restaurant meeting with her abuser and child’s father. The Loquitur story reports Amanda being screamed at publicly in this restaurant, vulgar and hateful words, yet not one single witness to this took a moment from their food in order to step into the situation. Instead, Amanda continued to leave with this man who went on to choke and beat her once getting into their car.
Each day people are bullied, abused, harassed, assaulted and so many more awful things. They could all be prevented. Sometimes all it takes to stop a situation is to bring attention to it. While sometimes these are very dangerous people and other measures must be taken, sometimes these bullies, abusers, harassers, assaulters, etc. will abort the situation just by being called out. Why not at least give it a try? This could be the chance to save a life.