Usually, bullying doesn’t involve just a bully and a target. Stella O’Malley writes in her book, Bully-Proof Kids about the importance of other roles in bullying. Usually, Bullies like status so audiences are important, that’s what they get off on – audience approval or compliance. “Wingmen” are fans of the bully, but the most important role is that of the bystander. If a target can not assert themselves it is the bystanders who decide the outcome. That outcome will be negative for the target if the bystanders find the situation amusing, intimidating, and/or say nothing at all. Stella has a much more positive, proactive title for bystanders: “upstanders.”
Naturally, children are hardwired to intervene if they see a pier in pain [Nice Guys Finish First BBC Horizon]. Bystanders if they take on the role of upstander can deflate the bully or bullies. Being an Upstander doesn’t have a huge as Stella O’Malley argues, “If you’re on public transport and someone is giving someone else racial abuse, even by just making eye contact with the target, and giving them a supportive look, helps reduce the bullying. Crossing the carriage to stand by them, maybe engaging them in conversation about the journey or the weather, will help reduce the power of the bully.” O’Malley’s mantra is to embrace the role of the upstander – and in schools in particular, she thinks nurturing an upstanding culture would make a huge difference.
I’m concerned that schools and workplaces will be too intimated at the idea of developing truly assertive children and workers to implement programes to bring about the necessary change. We’re not trying to produce ‘difficult’ children or disruptive workers the aim is to produce reasonable human beings and it is their workers who will protect the businesses they work for by challenging unacceptable behaviour.
Post Savile I was one of the union officials who helped the BBC develop new bullying and harassment policies. There was a very useful addition made – examples of what is and what is not acceptable behaviour. Certainly for targets context is everything – yes he was shouting, I was publicly humiliated but I had made a mistake in my work. To which my answer is that if management can not control their behaviour they shouldn’t be management.
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