I was sick this past week and wanted a good book to distract myself. A friend suggested “Sarah’s Key,” The New York Times bestseller by Tatiana De Rosnay. Sounded light and just what I needed. I was probably the only one in the world who didn’t know it was about the Holocaust. I didn’t know if I had the energy to take on such a heavy subject but the way the author weaved the story connecting the past with the present was so engaging. I finished it in a day.
Although, over the years we’ve learned so much about the extreme nature of people’s behavior during that horrible time in history — those that hated and caused pain and destruction and those that risked their lives to help — Sarah’s Key made me want to honor those compassionate souls who didn’t turn the other way. It was so difficult for them.
Don’t we want to raise heroes? Compassionate souls who don’t turn away. I suppose we have to lead by example and say “Not on my watch will I let another person cause anguish.” It’s a lesson we can learn from the past.
What is our role as bystanders? I came across a great expression coined by a group called School Climate. It’s “upstanders.” An upstander is a bystander who steps up. I really like that distinction because bystanders come in different forms:
Assistants – who actively join in the attack
Reinforcers – who give positive feedback to the bully, perhaps by smiling or laughing
Outsiders – who stay back, stay quiet and thereby condone the bullying behavior
Defenders – who try to intervene to stop the bullying or comfort the target. (Upstanders!)
There is a long list of ways that kids can be an “upstander.” They can help by going to an adult or surrounding the target, or not participating in the mean-spirited behavior. Whatever their comfort level is. It’s important not to force a child to do something they don’t feel capable of such as confronting the bullies but it is important to empower them by giving them choices of ways they can help. Witnesses, like victims, feel the affects of bullying: stomach aches, lack of concentration, sadness. We have the power to empower them.
A book I’d like to suggest is Stan Davis’ Empowering Bystanders in Bullying Prevention.
And as I tell the kids, “The best leaders teach by example.” We can all brush up on our upstander skills.