How To Recognize Different Types of Change Agents
March, 12th, 2015

'The Bystander'

Why does the bystander stand idly by?  Have you ever wondered that? Why do some people just stand there and turn a blind eye to abuse and bullying?  Why do they turn their backs on the people who need them?

As a child I experienced the traumatic effects of witnessing domestic violence and also experienced physical violence at home.  Growing up, I was stunned that my parents’ friends consistently chose to pretend that they didn’t know what was happening.  I’d go to church and people would say, ‘oh what a beautiful family you have,’ and ‘oh what a beautiful smile you have,’ and inside I’d be thinking, “when are you idiots going to stop pretending that everything is fine?’  ‘Can’t you see I’m too scared to do anything but smile?’ 

Even when it became public knowledge that my dad (a pastor of a local church) was making poor choices, the people in my “community” chose to blame the victim; my mom - saying that a wife should 'aways submit to her husband.'

Do you know what that avoidance did for my dad?  Nothing; since nobody told him the truth he was never introduced to the idea that there might be a better way – that there might be something else he could do to get what he wanted – that he could learn to control the events that effect his life rather than trying to control other people.

Do you think he got better? No.  My dad turned to drugs and alcohol and lost everything.  He spent 25 years living on the streets of Las Vegas as a homeless person.  He died last year of liver failure – caused by drug and alcohol abuse.  He was only 58 years old.  I often think about how my dads’ life might have turned out if just one person had intervened on his behalf by confronting his abusive behavior, in a socially-appropriate and strategically-effective way, back in 1992 when everybody found out about his problem.

I was too young back then to do anything but guess what?  I’m not too young now.  So, I intervene as often as I frigg’n can because I know what happens to people when nobody takes the time out of their precious day to guide somebody back toward life success.

As a teenager I vowed not to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, and consequently, I’ve found myself faced many times with the choice to turn and walk away or to step into the danger zone and stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

I know what it feels like to have villainous others retaliate against you – I’ve had my tires slashed for standing up against neighbors who were hurting their children.  I’ve had family stop speaking to me because I refused to stand by and allow a relative to bully my family and I.  I have experienced that painful moment when you realize that other people see you being hurt and just turn and walk away.  I remember feeling so confused and saddened at the recognition that the adults in my life whom I had trusted to protect me were capable of allowing abuse and bullying to happen to someone they ”loved.”

But you know what? Something good came out of all those scary situations –it was in those moments that I realized that love is an action word.  Love means that you are doing something – an action – that reveals your love for yourself and for others.  In other words, love is shown through the action of caring about yourself and others.  I feel loved when you take care of me and you feel loved when I take care of you.  Caring doesn’t just mean patting you on the back.  It also means holding you accountable to a standard of behavior that supports and sustains psychosocial well-being and flourishing life.  If you practice the virtue of tolerance – that’s great, but don’t do it without the balancing virtue of discipline, because tolerance without discipline becomes permissiveness – or letting people get away with things that they shouldn’t be getting away with.

So, you want to know why bystanders stand idly by?  It’s because they are stuck in an adolescent state of being – they fear risk of loss more than they value psychological well-being and flourishing life - and you know why that is?  Because they grew up in families where oppression is the norm, in families where they really were powerless to do anything about what was happening to them.

But guess what?  You’re not powerless now.  You’re not that little 8 year old boy or girl anymore.  You don’t have to just ‘deal with it.’  You don’t have to unplug from yourself; from your awareness of your own emotions.  You can change it. 

Guess why?  Because shit doesn't just happen.  Because everything that happens in the social world is engineered – it’s built – by your actions.  Every day you are shaping your social reality by what you permit, by what you create and by what you sustain.

So, dear reader, to you I say this.  Go out there and get some hero training because there’s somebody in your life, like my dad… and that person needs to know that it’s not okay to hurt other people – to hurt themselves.

Here’s how you step out of the bystander role.  Think about what I’ve said, and when you decide that you value self-actualization, or becoming truly yourself, the heroic you that you were born to be, more than you value maintaining a pretend pleasantness – that’s when you’ll be in a position to say, “no – that’s not okay, you can flip out if you want to but I’m still not going to let you take away my free will from me.  I’m still not going to let you break my spirit because I’m alive and I want to stay that way; on the inside too.”  Take the leap of faith and push past your fear – your life depends on it.

For more info on how to become more heroic in your own life or on how to increase your own ability to create and protect healthy social ecosystems in the places where you live, work, learn, and / or play visit:

To contact Shawn Furey send an e-mail to:

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Shawn Furey is the owner of
Shawn Fureys'
Hero Training School
and is the creator of
'The Hero Support Network'
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