It doesn’t matter that not everyone has the courage to step up. Just one person makes a difference!
I try to live by the Golden Rule. You know – treat others as you would want them to treat you.
When applied to bullying, the Golden Rules start by considering how you would want other people to respond if you were being attacked. You would want someone, anyone, to intervene to help you. And since that is what you would want, that is the way you need to respond when you see someone else being attacked.
And the reason this is important is partially because there is strength in numbers. Humans are tribal animals. We need to be part of a herd or “tribe” to feel safe. We are a lot like chickens. I own chickens so I see them do this a lot. When one of them wanders away from the flock. It realizes it is alone and runs, flapping it’s wings to get back to the safety of the flock. I see this same behavior in my little boy who just has to be in the same room with me. When he realizes I am in another room, he comes running to find me. He needs to be around other humans to feel safe.
We never really loose this need to belong. This is why bullying that causes social exclusion is so damaging. We humans feel exclusion as physical pain. This is why it is so important for witnesses to bullying to step up and defend the victim. If we remain silent, we add to the isolation of the victim. We give them the sense that they are alone, because no one defended them openly and explicitly.
Is it any wonder some kids turn to suicide as a result of bullying? If just one person took it upon themselves to come to their aid, they would feel less alone and less isolate and maybe, perhaps, they would feel less desperate as a result of the abuse they are enduring. See this article from a psychotherapist who explains how bullying can lead to suicide – http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2013/04/20/2472683/psychotherapist-explains-how-bullying.html. If you see someone being attacked, come to their aid openly and explicitly and in the moment!
The problem is that this – stand up and speak up is an ideal. The reality is that it isn’t actually very safe for a bystander to speak out. Unless they have support, they will be targeted to. The goal is for the adults around them to create a space that a kid can speak out and be supported for doing so! See this wonderful article by Lorna Blumen on what it takes to create a culture where bystanders CAN intervene – http://bullyingepidemic.com/bystander-intervention-stops-bullying-in-its-tracks-part-2/
Adults must lead the way. We must start enculturating reporting and active intervention when kids are young, in the first few years of school, so that they know it’s worthwhile and that they will be supported if they do. See my strategy for combatting bullying here – read it – share it and pass it on – https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0L27xd7NclMVG9vb0dNbXpuUmc/edit?usp=sharing