October 16, 2013

I wrote a comment to Maureen Dowd’s column today that is, probably, really a criticism of “bystanders” in dysfunctional relationships such as bullying.  The bystanders do their thing, feeling they are only doing what is socially acceptable.  When things don’t end well, for either the target or the bully, the bystanders are left to regroup — regroup socially and regroup within themselves.

I guess that’s where my sense of what happens ends.  I don’t have all that much evidence of what bystanders do afterwards.  I can tell from the attempts of some people I know who have tried to ask the target to say it was all okay, that some bystanders feel they did something wrong.  But it usually comes across as “I had to do it, and I would do it again, but please tell me it’s okay as if I am saying I won’t do it again.”

I think this is called asking someone else to hold your anxiety, or at least something parallel.  I think we are engaging in enabling if we agree to do it.

I don’t think the target necessarily feels any emotional satisfaction in telling bystanders who look for this kind of emotional exchange, “Thanks, but no thanks.”  I think the difficulty of the situation only allows for them to do not much more than to recognize the limitations of human beings.

So I don’t think we get resolution either as a bang or a whimper or even a hug;  I think the resolution is neutral acceptance that stuff happens, including stuff that causes real and lasting damage, and that there is not always recourse available for redressing that damage.  And that it should be left there:  no bitterness, no rancor, but no shifting, back onto the target, of the burden of holding the tension.


One Response to “Bystanders”

  1. James Koppel Says:

    See the bystander story on today’s about what happened off-campus in Athens OH.

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