Be Aware of Bullies and Bystanders – Demonstrate Bravery

As I reflect on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in schools, where test scores seem to overshadow building good citizens, companies where making money supersedes the ethical behavior, and the state of our country, where getting re-elected is more important than voting based on professed moral beliefs, I encourage people to take breath and answer a few questions.

As John Wooden said, “There is No Pillow as Soft as a Clear Conscience.” I do wonder how some people can sleep at night based on sacrificing kids, colleagues, and associates for some valueless goal. I think the following can be applied personally, organizationally, and nationally.

Many years ago, I read a book titled, The Power of Ethical Management. (1988).  Blanchard and Peale wrote, “There is No Right way to do a Wrong Thing.” The authors suggested asking three questions to guide decisions.

  • Question #1: Is It Legal?  If the answer is no, there is no need to ask any more questions.  Legal in terms of civil, criminal law, company policy, Codes of Ethics
  • Question #2: Is It Balanced?  Is the decision going to be fair or will it heavily favor one party over another in the short term or the long term?  Lopsided decisions end up lose-lose.
  • Question #3: How Will It Make Me Feel About Myself?  This focuses on your own emotions and standards of morality.  An unethical act will erode self-esteem.

Question #1- these decisions are easier.  Physical safety is critical to learning.  Kids and staff don’t focus on learning if they are concerned with their physical safety.  That is why guns, drugs, etc. have to be addressed and eliminated. I will address emotional safety later.

Question #2 – these decisions are a bit more complex.  Students know more ways to learn than we know how to teach. I know we don’t have the resources to accommodate everything for everybody.  At the same time, we have an obligation, if not a moral responsibility, to effectively help students learn. If the staff isn’t experiencing a learning environment, the kids probably aren’t either.  Creating a culture of learning is critical as we strive to demonstrate equity, not just equality.  As I have said before, there are no silver bullets.  Creating conditions for maximizing learning is not easy nor for the faith of heart.

Expanding our repertoire of learning strategies, engaging students and staff to solve problems, and being on a track of ongoing learning will continue to stretch our commitment and resources.  LEARNING IS WORTH IT. How else do we think we will solve our problems on the planet.  I saw a quote recently, ‘there is no planet B.’

I also think Question #2 brings up the need for both/and thinking versus either/or.  Either/or, in most cases, is a trap (excluding Question #1 issues).  Most human problems are both/and. Humans are not machines.  They tend to be messy with multiple interdependent issues. Agreeing on common goals and embracing diversity as an energy source for learning will help solve human problems (most of which humans create).

Question #3 is where SEL and many human problems end up.  When issues become either/or, there is usually a loser.  When there is a loser, it may come with negative emotions, resentments, and a ‘get even’ attitude down the road.  Revenge is a short-term win with long-term consequences.

I strongly suggest reading the story ‘The Martyrdom of Andy Drake’ which is in the book, A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul by Canfield and Hanson (1997).  The author writes an apology to Andy Drake for his participation in making fun of Andy and basically bullying and excluding him from the author’s social network in school.  This is an open letter to Andy. The author knows the chances are Andy will never read it. The author wrote this letter for himself taking responsibility for his behavior.

I have read this letter to high school students, staff, and parents. When presenting to students on bullying, at the end, there is usually total silence.  READ THIS STORY.  After thirty years I am still touched emotionally.  There is a quote in the story (I paraphrase), ‘the hottest corners of hell are reserved for those in a time of crisis who remain silent.’  There is research that says bystanders have more impact on the one being bullied than the bully.  My first new rule I ever sent out on twitter said, “Stand Up or Shut Up.”  Who speaks for those without a voice or without status to stand up for themselves?  Who speaks for those who are marginalized?

Ellie Wiesel has a quote that really struck home with me: “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.”

Questions to Consider:

  • How does it make you feel if you are the one being bullied?
  • How does it make you feel to be a bystander and watch someone else being bullied?
  • Can you deal with the emotional cost of watching and letting bullying continue?

So, here is my hope.  Show bravery by speaking up.  Show bravery by taking actions to help someone being bullied. Show bravery by reporting events that demean others.  Disagreement doesn’t include emotionally destroying others or calling people names.  There is strength in finding others who are making the choice to speak up especially for those who may not have their own resources or support.

I remember a childhood saying.  ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’  Is that true for you?  That is NOT true for me. I have been hurt much deeper by the things people have said to me than the physical pain from athletics, accidents, or actions I have taken.


Blanchard, Kenneth, and Peale, Norman Vincent.  The Power of Ethical

            Management.  New York:  Fawcett Crest, 1988.

Canfield, Jack & Hansen, Mark Victor. (1994). A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

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