Sue Shellenbarger’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Are you a hero or a bystander?” will help you analyze your potential to be a hero. It’ll give you clues as to whether you’re likely to step up in a crisis.
The article is typical of a way of thinking that’s irrelevant, misleading and destructive.
Some of the hidden assumptions behind the article are:
You are who you are; which is a product of the way you’ve been raised.
If you have certain beliefs – the reasons people gave for why they stepped up in a crisis – then that will determine how you’ll act. If you don’t have those beliefs, you’re stuck as a bystander.
If we examine the factors that people give for why they act brave, then we understand heroism and we can replicate it.
That approach is a dead end and a waste of time; it’s all mental and irrelevant in human affairs.
Instead, try a much simpler approach:
Confront your fears.
Decide how you want to act in any 10 recent examples that have made the headlines – the shooting in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, witnessing a car crash, hearing someone scream for help, etc.
Train yourself to act the courageous way you want to without thinking in the moment.
I know that sounds too simple but give it a try.
Remember, that’s the way we train cops, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, etc. That’s the way we train football, basketball and soccer players. They do the drills over and over and over until they react the way they want without thinking.
For example, only a small percent of us will go to war, but a large percent of us will witness harassment, bullying and abuse. How do you want to respond in the moment? Do you want to be a bystander or spectator? Do you want to be a witness or a defender?
Train yourself – discipline and preparation.
Remember Captain Chesley Sullenberger. He’s the pilot who put that commercial, jumbo jet full of passengers down in the Hudson River with no loss of life. He didn’t crash into Manhattan, which would probably have killed thousands. How did he know what to do? He’ll tell you that he heard of something horrific when he was about 11 years old, when people simply looked away instead of being courageous. He vowed he’d always act bravely and he trained himself to be prepared so he could act effectively. Discipline and practice.
Jane’s sister, Betty, seemed to have been born with a vicious tongue. She attacked everyone relentlessly. Holidays with the extended family were a misery for Jane and her family. Nobody, not even their mother, stopped Betty. Everyone was afraid to complain directly to Betty. If they did, Betty would turn on them even more spitefully before.
According to Betty, nobody’s children were good enough – they were all ugly, stupid, ignorant, mean or bad. They were too fat or too skinny; they ate too much or too little; they ate too fast or too slow. They dreamed too big for their non-existent talents.
Betty laughed joyfully when she pounced on someone’s mistakes, no matter how trivial or irrelevant. Their choices were always wrong, their clothes and manners were wrong. Betty always knew better and rubbed everyone’s nose in it.
Some of Betty’s reasons excuses and justifications for why she was so hostile were:
“Those are my feelings. It’s my honest opinion. You wouldn’t want me to repress how I feel, would you?”
“You're too sensitive.”
“I’m doing it for their own good. You’re too soft on them. They’ll never get better if you don’t correct them.”
“I had to take it when I was a kid. It’ll make them stronger and tougher.”
“They have to learn to take it. They’ll get it like that in the real-world.”
Of course, everyone can have a bad day and be grumpy. But with Betty, it was everyday and it was relentless, hostile and mean-spirited.
Bullies want us to try to argue with their reasons, excuses and justifications. The more we argue, the more we’re engaged without their ever changing. If we make a good point, they’ll change the subject and give another excuse or cite a different time when they were right. They’ll never admit that they need to change; that’s how we know they’re bullies.
Or, if we challenge them, their feelings will be so hurt that they’ll withdraw into a very loud silent treatment. And it’ll go on forever until we give up, admit we were cruel, promise never to attack them again and simply accept the abuse. That’s how we know they’re bullies.
What can Jane do? Remember, all tactics have to be designed to fit our specific situations, what we want to accomplish and the limits of our comfort zones.
Jane once asked Betty not to say anything to Jane’s children; Betty was hurting them and Jane had told them take it because Betty was their aunt. But Betty hadn’t changed. Finally, Jane decided that she wasn’t going to expose herself and her family to any more of Betty’s abuse. She’d end the unrelenting negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame and guilt-trips.
Once again, she asked Betty to stop talking the way she did and to find nice things to say. She asked Betty to be nicer, kinder and more polite to family than she would be to strangers. But Betty didn’t stop.
She told Betty she wanted her to feel differently but if she couldn’t, she still wanted her to take charge of her tongue and to repress herself; being an abusive bully is worse than repressing herself. But Betty didn’t stop.
She told Betty that if the brutality continued, she wouldn’t come if Betty was present. That would cause a rift in the family and it would be Betty’s fault. Betty didn’t stop.
Jane told the family she’d decided that she’d never let bullies treat her and her family the way Betty did. She had to take charge of keeping them safe from people who polluted their emotional environment. She asked them to choose the behavior they’d support even if that meant they all told Betty to change or they’d stop inviting her. Jane reminded them of what Mr. Spock said, “Never sacrifice the many for the sake of the one.” But Betty didn’t stop.
Jane decided that behavior was more important than blood. More important than victimizing her children by subjecting them to their Aunt Betty’s viciousness, was setting a good example by protecting them from abuse. She didn’t want them to experience the anxiety, stress and discouragement that had accompanied visits with Betty. That meant they didn’t see Betty any more. That also meant they saw the rest of the family only on one-to-one occasions when Betty was not present.
Over the years, the same conversations were replayed after extended family gathering except in Jane’s house. There, Jane and her family had a wonderful time; free from criticism, bullying and abuse; free from the endless re-hashing of Betty’s latest attacks.
Once Jane had cleared the abuse out of her family’s life, they were able to find friends they loved being with.
With expert coaching and consulting, we can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation. We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying. We can overcome childhood rules to give in to or argue with bullies’ excuses, reasons and justifications. We can become strong and skilled enough to stop bullies in their tracks – even if those bullies are blood relatives.
“How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of adults getting over their early training and then stopping bullies. For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).
For years I’ve watched bullies disrupt professional meetings and create hostile workplaces. It’s bad enough when team members dominate meetings, but it’s always worse if it’s the boss who’s a control freak.
Here are the top 10 tactics I’ve seen them use. What situations and actions irritate and frustrate you most?
These methods are even worse when they’re repeatedly used. But of course, that’s a sign of bullying behavior; bullies don’t change. My top 10 are:
Unprepared and latecomers – especially when they make a loud entrance.
Interrupters – they may be show-offs or clowns; they may interrupt vocally or by eating and drinking loudly or they may use their cell phones, Blackberrys or computers. They have the attention span of two year-olds.
Boring ramblers with their lengthy personal conversations or digressions.
Naysayers – they are relentlessly negative and can put down and block every proposal; “There are problems, we tried that, nothing ever works except my ideas.”
Angry people who indulge in personal attacks and put-downs, belittling and bringing up old errors. They’re often defensive but, after a while, who cares about their psychotherapy?
Nit-pickers, distracters and side trackers who are full of irrelevant facts. They prevent progress by correcting or arguing over irrelevant details. They may want to re-think every previous decision; they never take action.
Side conversation experts – their ideas, whims or self-important witticisms seem to them more important than the agenda.
Editorial comments – they may be verbal or non-verbal, including snorting, rolling eyes, drumming fingers, turning their chairs around, laughing sarcastically and barely audible disparaging or ridiculing remarks.
Passive-aggressive backstabbers – they keep quiet or even agree during meetings, but then disagree, complain or put down people after meetings.