Being a passive bystander can cause personal trauma


I wrote previously about what it means to be a bystander and that there are two types – passive and active. I also want to reiterate that passive bystanders are not bad people. However, when we are passive bystanders to a situation in which we can take action to improve the outcome, the results are bad not only for the target of harm but it’s also bad for us. As passive observers, we experience shame, self-blame, and even psychological trauma – an experience illustrated by train operators who witness death on the tracks.

These innocent passive observers are an example of a situation where there is nothing they could have done to prevent the outcome. Even though they are blameless, lingering trauma can still result. Fortunately, most of us will never witness such a tragedy. But I think it’s safe to say that all of us who reach adolescence will witness teasing, bullying, harassment, and even abuse. The question is – will we know what to do when we witness it? Will we be prepared to become an active bystander? Or will we choose to remain a passive bystander and forced to live with the repercussions of inaction?




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