Everyone Plays a Role in a Bullying Situation

Often we perceive bullying as a conflict between two parties and narrowly focus on those directly involved. We describe a situation of an individual exhibiting aggressive behavior toward a target of that behavior. This perception must be expanded so that we collectively understand that a bullying situation effects anyone who is directly or indirectly involved in the event.

In The Bully, the Bullied, and the Not-So-Innocent Bystander, Barbara Coloroso describes a bullying situation as "a tragedy performed daily in our homes, schools, playgrounds, streets, and workplaces." This tragedy has three roles: the bully, the bullied, and the not-so-innocent bystander. These are merely temporary roles, she argues, so that we do not permanently typecast children for their roles nor do we translate the part to values that placed on individuals.

The bully and the bullied are roles that most of us can easily identify; however, we need to expand our focus to include all those who are also involved in a bullying situation. They are traditionally called bystanders, but are also referred to as witnesses. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, the gold standard of bullying prevention programs, digs deeper into this category. In the "Bullying Circle," bystanders are divided into five categories:

  1. Henchmen take an active part in the behavior, but are not involved in planning.
  2. Active supporters are the cheerleaders who try to reap any gains from the situation.
  3. Passive supporters are entertained by the ordeal, but do not provide outward encouragement.
  4. Disengaged onlookers are disinterested in something that is "none of their business."
  5. Potential defenders are those who disapprove of the bullying but do not move to aid the target.
Bullying is a complex situation that involves more than just the bully and bullied. Perhaps by understanding the roles that all of us play, we will become proactive and responsive in order to break the cycle of bullying. In this way, we might see significant decreases in these tragic events.

Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness. ~James Thurber

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