The Leader, The Bully, The Bystander

It's a hot day on the Savanna you and your antelope friends are hot and thirsty so you decide to go to the local watering hole and wet your whistles. You all approach the water to get a drink when seemingly out of nowhere there is a rustle of leaves and sharp yelp as Antelope Bob gets attacked and dragged away by hungry lion. As Bob is getting dragged away to his untimely antelope doom, many things are going on in you and all of your antelope friend's heads: Bob doesn't need help, he'll get away; someone else will surely help Bob; I can't help, I don't know the first thing about rescuing antelope; I would help, but I'm in a hurry to get my antlers looked at; Bob should have been more careful; Bob was asking for it, he should have been more prepared; It's survival of the fittest and, well, let's just say Bob wasn't the brightest bulb; (feeling a bit guilty) boy, I'll sure miss Bob, but I'm glad it wasn't me!

This phenomenon is call the bystander effect. According to David Meyers, The bystander effect or Genovese syndrome is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases where individuals do not offer any means of help in an emergency situation to the victim when other people are present. The probability of help has often appeared to be inversely related to the number of bystanders; in other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. The mere presence of other bystanders greatly decreases intervention. In general, this is believed to happen because as the number of bystanders increases, any given bystander is less likely to notice the situation, interpret the incident as a problem, and less likely to assume responsibility for taking action.

How can we combat the bystander effect? Well, according to top social psychologists the following five elements increase the chances for someone to overcome the bystander effect:

1. Notice that something is happening. 
2. Interpret what’s happening. 
3. Take responsibility for providing help. (Overcome diffusion of responsibility)
4. Know how to help.
5. Actually help.
LatanĂ©, B. and Darley, J. M. (1970) The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn’t he help? Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall

Here is a story that conflict expert Jack Hoban often tells regarding bullying (I changed it slightly):

You're on the playground and you see a kid getting bullied by a bigger kid. Pretty much everyone sees that as being wrong. Congratulations your moral. You know wrong from right. 

You overcome the embarrassment of being called a tattle tail and the fear of being confronted later by the bully for telling on him and you go get a teacher to help. Congratulations you are ethical: You do the right thing when it is difficult to do so, or you don't have to (ethics = morals in action). 

Now, there are no teachers or adults around to help and if you don't step in, the smaller kid is going to get pounded. So, you over come your fear of being beat up yourself, the anxiety of maybe having to hurt someone else, the reality of possibility of getting kicked out of school and/or grounded by your parents for "fighting." You overcome all of these fears and you decide to step in and stand up to the bully. Now you have the makings of an Ethical Protector (or Ethical Warrior, or what I often call the PeaceWalker).

To take it even a step further, the next day when you see the bigger kid who was being the bully the day before, you approach him and say something like this: "Hey George, is everything alright with you man? You seem like you're a nice enough guy; what was going on with you and Bob?"

That story helps to simply clarify the concepts of morals, ethics and ethical protection. We have to also remember not to demonize (dehumanize) the person (or group) who are being the bullies.

It only takes ONE person to step up, then others step up as well. But that one person has to have guts to be the first to make the stand!

 Keep in mind that bullies, victims and bystanders grow up to be adults and often will carry their habits forward into the world. Bullies often continue to be bullies, victims often become bullies themselves or resort to passive aggressive or self destructive behavior. Have you ever had a demeaning, control freak tyrant for a boss? (Bully) or had to deal with someone who you couldn't trust because they said one thing and did another (passive aggressive) or just wouldn't engage or communicate directly, rather they would stab you in the back or be some kind of social media  - terrorist. This behavior isn't only reserved for individuals, we see it in our communities, governments and societies as well. From office politics to genocide, bullies are nothing new. 

The philosophy is intriguing, the psychological explanation is interesting, but the real question is what can we do about it?!

My answer is simple (not to be confused with easy):

Inspire more people to become PROTECTORS & LEADERS! 

Protectors of life (Self & ALL others).
Leaders of our own lives.
Leaders of our friends & families.
Leaders of our schools.
Leaders of our communities.
Leaders of our world.

We are all protectors and we cannot have too many leaders. Now you may be thinking; Craig, everyone can't be a leader, some people have to followers right? My answer to your thought is that true leaders make the BEST team members. Leaders are confident individuals that don't always be in the spotlight or directing the group. Often the true leaders are soft spoken, humble, they can follow orders, they can play their part and when needed they can step up and take charge. 

The difference between a manager and a leader is this:

A manager follows the rules.
A leader does what's right.

We need more LEADERS!

Here is the leaders checklist:
  • See Conflict as an Opportunity
  • Embrace the Universal Life Value (All life is to be protected and respected)
  • Work Toward Most Good Least Harm for Everyone
  • Share Through Inspiration

This will take some courage on your part and you'll be more successful if you have clarity and some skills:
  • Ethical Clarity
  • Emotional Tools
  • Psychological Tools
  • Verbal Tools
  • Physical Tools
Knowledge and data are not enough, these things have to be activated and sustained. It is a journey not a destination. there is too much information out there. Heck, even reading this blog post adds to the information overload we have. We need clarity and activation, not more data! We have too much data already, if you don't believe me just Google it!

So how you get ethical clarity and develop emotional, psychological, verbal and physical tools? Simple, you need to TRAIN! That's right actual training that deals with more than just thinking about something, you'll have to DO SOMETHING! 

If you are wondering where to get training, here are some resources:

Oh, and for the record, people who are leaders live much more successful and fulfilling lives. Rather than being victims themselves, they choose to exercise the power that is in all of us. The more true leaders we have, the less bystander effect we'll see with bullying or anything else.

Here is your action step:

Today go out of your way to say or do something nice for someone you don't know. Open a door, carry someones groceries, tell someone you don't know that you like their shoes, ask someone if they need a hand if they look like they could use one, etc. If you want to make it more difficult try this with someone that is not like you, someone you wouldn't normally be inclined to help: Someone from a different ethnicity, age, perceived socioeconomic class, job, etc.! Repeat this a minimum of three times today. Let me know what happens! 

"Where ever I go people are safer because I am there."

"Where ever I am someone in need has a friend."

"When ever I return home everyone is happy that I am there."

~It's a better life! 

All the best,



  1. This is your best blog ever, my friend! (And that's saying a lot, you've written some great ones...)
    Keep it up!


  2. Excellent thoughts for getting re-grounded. Thanks, Craig!


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