This week I traveled to Middlebury, Vermont to teach bystander intervention to students at Middlebury College. I asked them to tell me about moments when they stood up for someone or when someone stood up for them.
The stories they told were heartbreaking, honest and brave.
- I saw a cop harassing a homeless man. I didn't have a camera phone so I called a friend and dictated the officer's badge number and license plate. I tried to intervene by the officer still arrested the man. Another time, I witnessed another cop harassing a different man, I stayed with the man the whole time and when the officer made him leave, I walked with him.
- In the sixth grade, I saw a fight between two boys and I ran to get a teacher to break it up.
- I was in a restaurant and a man started aggressively praising the new president of the United States and verbally attacking me. I didn't want to argue with the guy, but I felt stuck. My friend saw what was going on and asked me if I wanted to leave to get ice cream. She gave me an out.
- I heard a guy yelling really loud in a parking lot. I thought he was on the phone, but then I realized he was yelling at a woman sitting next to him. They got out of the car and he got physically violent. I ran over to them and yelled for him to stop. He didn't stop. But after I tried to help, other people tried to help too.
By the time we were done story sharing, one thing was clear: The young people in that room are curious and willing to do the messy and risk-taking work required to confront hate. I'm so proud of them and grateful for the opportunity to play a small role in their journey.
By definition, an active bystander is someone who not only witnesses identity-based violence, but takes steps to keep the situation from escalating. Love Your Neighbor encourages people to de-escalate conflict by engaging the targeted person (not the attacker), documenting the incident and offering support to the targeted person.
Every single one of us has what it takes to be an active bystander. We are already wired with enough courage, empathy and love for our neighbor to challenge hate when we see it.
The beautiful thing about deciding to be an active bystander is that it doesn't require us to confront the bully, it only requires us to stand with the person being targeted.
As one student pointed out, in childhood, we are taught to "stand up to the bully" which makes committing to being an active bystander a hard thing to do if you are a person who doesn't like confrontation.
"But focusing attention only on the targeted person is something anyone can do," he added.
The students not only pledged to say something if they see incidents of hate on campus, they are also planning to take what they learned and organize a student-led workshop.
This is how we win. Love really does trump hate.