How Living Your Values Can Empower You to Intervene

To many, bystander intervention seems so obvious and intuitive. Bystander intervention is routinely taught and discussed in education and advocacy professions. A bystander is a witness to an event who has chosen not to engage or act, although their presence affords them the opportunity to do so. Bystander intervention suggests that there are opportunities in which a bystander can safely and effectively intervene to prevent further negative dialogue and behavior.

We like to think that if presented with the opportunity, we would assist someone else in their moment of need. And yet, our collective truth is that these moments often pass us by without our meaningful action. If you were asked to sincerely reflect on your life, I would presume that you can identify at least one missed opportunity to help to someone need. Far too often, situations arise in our lives that cause us to pause, stop short, or withhold our intervention even when it would be to the benefit of others. As I engage students in bystander intervention discussions, we often discuss that the fear their assistance will be rejected combined with the uncertainty of how to effectively intervene can result in their inaction. While these barriers may exist, I would encourage you to consider how a pattern of inaction can result in far more negative and damaging consequences for our communities than imperfect intervention.

Might we intervene when our intervention isn’t necessary? Might our intervention upset its recipient? Might we think of a better intervention strategy after the fact? Certainly. Should these possibilities prevent our intervention? Absolutely not.

Understanding that our actions impact our community in all its facets (family, sisterhood, institution, work environment, etc.), we must consider the responsibility our presence affords us. Our actions, and those that we permit in our environment, dictate the community standards and expectations we live within. We have the option, and I would argue the responsibility, to uphold our community standards throughout consistent intervention. When we choose to intervene to make our communities safer for all we are leading with positive intentions. It is those intentions that matter most, as they speak volumes about our character and commitment to others. By recognizing that the very act of intervention is more powerful than its result, we might overcome our reticence to intervention. We can shift from focusing on how our intervention will be received, to recognizing that our choice to intervene is in and of itself powerful.

By choosing to intervene throughout our lives, we are making a commitment to live our values through our words and actions. Integrity requires that we have strong moral principles*, otherwise stated as striving to do the right thing. As we navigate our lives, there will be moments in which we may misstep, err, or lose our way. And yet, having integrity means that we realign ourselves upon reflection. When it comes to bystander intervention, we must make every attempt to intervene when the opportunity arises. If we find ourselves operating as bystanders in the face of negative situations, we must challenge ourselves to reflect on our inaction.

This principle becomes more poignant as I broaden my experiences, personally and professionally. It can be difficult and exhausting work to always intervene when the opportunity arises. Yet, I find that each time I intervene I feel more confident and empowered. Knowing that I have chosen to uphold my values provides a sense of fulfillment from the success of the communities I belong to. Consistently intervening also means that I’m constantly learning more about myself, and in turn I have come to recognize opportunities for my own growth. Intervening also means that I’ve chosen to be a positive member of my community, role-modeling the behavior I wish to see for others. Thus, we are encouraging integrity, reflection, and growth within our communities.

Life may not always provide us a clear path but in those seconds where you are struggling with whether to intervene or not, I hope you feel empowered to try. Push through the uncertainty, find your inner courage, and stand for what you believe in. Live with integrity, and you will come to know the joy of helping others.

– Ashley Dunn, ΘB

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