Posts Tagged ‘responsibility’
As the scandal at Penn State continues to dominate the news, talk about why the key administrators and law enforcement ‘didn’t do more’ is accompanied by disgusted head-shaking: because of ‘fear of losing their jobs.’ Such speculation, while not wrong, has not taken into consideration ‘the bystander effect‘—which suggests that most of us would not have acted much differently.
Although the Huffington Post has already noted this angle, it bears repeating on a bullying blog site.
Of course they were afraid of losing their jobs, just as fourth grade bystanders are afraid of ‘telling’ on a bully, for fear of losing all that they have—their social standing in the schoolyard. But they also did what most bystanders do: they deferred responsibility, assuming that ‘someone else’ would take care of it. Paterno passed the buck to Curley, Curley to Schultz and presumably, Spanier. Spanier was let go immediately because as president, he should have stepped in. But as president, he must delegate, and he had Curley overseeing athletics…..and Curley of course deferred to the president….and round it goes…..each thinking the other was ‘handling’ the situation.
This is not to defend what they did, or to suggest that no cover-up was involved. But it is to add another consideration to our understanding of how and why it happened. Kitty Genovese had how many witnesses to her murder, all of whom deferred to the person in the next apartment, who might have seen something more….and ‘handled’ the situation.
It is a question of the cost of assuming responsibility in our society—how forgiving are we if someone ‘says something’ and is wrong? Not to mention, what is often (though clearly not in this instance!) the cost of being right?
One of the forces operating on bystanders has been called the ‘diffusion of responsibility’.
Research has shown that the more witnesses there are, the lesser the odds that someone will say something.
Why? Because everyone thinks “someone else can / will do it” (remember Kitty Genovese?)
In the bystanders’ mind, the larger the audience, the less responsibility s/he has to do something.
What does this mean in instances when a bytstander has been directly solicited by a cyberbully? (one-on-one, bully to bystander, meaning the incident has been texted or IM’ed, not posted on Facebook.)
In these instances, can it be said that the bystanders are themselves targets?
They are forced in to uncomfortable situations by (often) unsolicited texts――deliberately included as onlookers in the spectacle of humiliation―and their endorsement is something which is actively sought.
The question that must be asked, is: does the bystander in these incidents of cyberbullying feel a greater degree of personal responsibility, because the bullying itself has come to her/his attention through a personal appeal?
At this point the anonymity factor may become relevant, because responses to the text (which is a direct appeal) are not on display to other onlookers–as they would be if I were standing around watching someone be humiliated.
This means that it would be easy to
1) do something about this situation and remain anonymous
2) forward it to one more person. Other people are probably forwarding it and everyone knows anyway.
3) Do nothing–lots of people probably got this text and someone else will say something
Put this way, the core of the issue remains the same: when I, personally, do not feel responsible, I will not act in ‘responsible’ ways.
Recent PSA’s targeted at middle-school children with a ‘just say no’ (just don’t ‘’SEND”) type campaign. They are not requiring bystanders to be pro-active, but to be inactive.
Assume responsibility by refusing to be involved.
Does this get to the heart of the issue? (it does head off increasing the size of the public in shamings….) or does it actually encourage more of the same indifference?
How effective do you think it will be?