Updated: Jan 30, 2021
The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people. -Martin Luther King
In today’s world, bullying has been deeply ingrained in the roots of society. It is shocking to see how common this malevolent act has become, as the cases grow more in number and become more frequent, with one in every five students having experienced bullying. In a typical bullying case, we have the bully, the victim, and the least talked about but equally important- the bystander. The lack of awareness of the bystander effect is one of the reasons why bullying continues to prevail in schools.
A bystander is a person who witnesses an act of bullying, either in person or online. When bullying occurs, bystanders are present 80 percent of the time and they have the power to make a positive or negative impact on the victim. Bystanders play a very vital role in bullying. They can choose to support the bully (‘assistants’ or ‘reinforcers’), remain unassertive and passive (‘outsiders’) or they can intervene to help the victim (‘defenders’).
Even though bullying is carried out by one individual, the presence of other individuals (especially peers) greatly increases the likelihood of it recurring. In reality, passivity among bystanders contributes to the actions of bullying because it encourages and reassures the bully to see no one acting to deter them, thereby condoning the behaviour. This removes any feelings of remorse or regret that the bully would otherwise encounter if his conduct was not tolerated.
Unfortunately, most of the time bystanders choose not to intervene, and remain silent. Fear is one of the main reasons as to why bystanders fail to do anything when they witness bullying. Since they risk humiliation or criticism, some bystanders are reluctant to say something. They may even fear that they are going to say or do the wrong thing, making the bullying worse. So they stay silent instead. Moreover, some bystanders fear that if they come to the defense of the victim, they may be hurt or end up being the next victim. Furthermore, some are afraid of rejection. They fear that if they stick up for the victim, they will be made fun of and be ostracized.
Bystanders can take positive actions to prevent bullying and to address it while it is happening or after it occurs. The most effective thing to do is to stand up, call out the bullying, and make it stop. If spectators know that what they are seeing is wrong and they believe that something should be done, they should not let fear deter them. Encourage other bystanders, instead to side with them, and the more that people talk about it, the more likely it will end. By laughing or joining in, the bystander themselves is becoming a bully. The primary drive of a bully is the recognition and appreciation that they receive. They may become discouraged if they begin to realize that those around them are not laughing and joining in.
Bystanders have immense potential to turn around the situation and make a positive difference by becoming an upstander. An upstander is a helpful bystander: someone who sees something wrong and takes positive action to make it right. Even one person’s support can make a big difference for someone who is being bullied. Becoming an upstander and actively speaking out against bullying takes courage, assertiveness, compassion, and leadership.
There comes a time when silence is betrayal. Witnessing bullying and being a silent bystander to it makes you a bully yourself. Continuing to do so makes you not only a bully but also an accomplice to it. We must learn to take matters into our own hands and not turn a blind eye to bullying. Even a small act of speaking up and intervening can positively impact someone’s life. We must strive to make a change for a better and kinder tomorrow.