Those who know me will be fully aware of my passion to engage those who witness abuse or violence. My continued focus on the bystander comes from a time in my policing career when witness after witness would say to me “I knew something was going to happen”. An outcome in my trainings is to provide individuals with a useable toolkit helping them be the friends, work colleagues and team-mates that they want to be.
For this blog I want to suggest that now, more than ever we need active bystanders. In the current climate, it feels like our life’s are on hold. Covid-19 is (rightly) hogging the media narrative. Aside our from trips for essential shopping or to have our daily dose of ‘government sanctioned’ exercise, we (society) are, in the main, adhering to the government guidance of staying indoors
Our adherence to this guidance is the first example of how we can all be active bystanders (citizens) at this time. By doing so, we are helping our health service, but importantly we are sending out a normative message that staying in is the norm. I feel the work of C.S Lewis is relevant here. One of his most memorable essays is entitled “The Inner Circle.” It describes the experience and desire of us all at various stages of life to be accepted within the “inner ring” of whatever group matters to us at the time. At this time it is clear we are all fitting in.
The following describes a number of other ways that we can be active bystanders at this time:
- In the Queue – How many of us now are queuing to get into supermarkets? A great opportunity here for all of us to connect with people. Many individuals are struggling just now. Many are isolating on their own. That connection in the queue could be the only interaction that persons gets. Also, whilst shopping we can still lend a hand whilst maintaining the necessary distance. I was told of a situation when a colleague saw an older lady who was clearly distressed. She wanted to help the lady but didn’t want to get to close and cause even more distress. Simply saying “Can I help?” could support.
As humans we are born to connect. We thrive on connection. Keep finding ways to connect.
- In your community – At this time our role in our communities are so important. As the lock down was being introduced here in the U.K I was contacted by a friend who was concerned that a neighbour, who had said she was suffering from symptoms was allowing her children to wander freely in the community. She asked if she should say something.
It became clear that my friend knew she should be saying something but just didn’t know what to say. We talked about approaching the situation as a concerned friend and confirming the guidance from health professionals. My friend later used this advice in a supportive way.
3. As a friend, neighbour or family member – This sounds similar to above and I suppose it is. Since the lockdown in the U.K and in other countries there has been an identified increase in domestic abuse calls. Recent days have also highlighted a number of homicides that can be attributed to domestic abuse.
Many media outlets have used headlines that attribute these deaths to the virus. These headlines cannot be further from the truth. The deaths are as a result of power and control. Now I know that men are victims of abuse and will be affected at this time, but can we be clear that the deaths I’m reading about involve woman (and children) as victims. Let’s not be too quick to respond to support for Woman’s organisations with the usual “What about men?”
I’m a believer that prevention starts in the community. That’s no different for domestic abuse. See an earlier blog I wrote on a community response https://grahamgoulden.com/2019/09/13/scotland-must-pull-together-against-domestic-abuse/
I could write much more on this subject. My advice if you suspect a friend etc is being abused, speak to them at a time when they are on their own. Tell them what you have seen or heard and start with “That’s not your fault.” Yes, you may get some push-back, but you have planted a seed that says you care. Never close the door on a victim. It might not just be the right time for them to reach out for support.
The blog gives some links to support services for anyone, including men.
- As Men – I wanted to end with a focus on men. At this time, we need men to be role-models for our boys. It is becoming clear that of those dying from Covid-19 the majority are male. There are many theories going around why this may be the case.
Recent evidence from Canada suggested that men’s immune system is weaker than that of women. “Man-Flu is real????” But seriously this may be one reason why more men are dying however I want to stick my neck out there and suggest that societal expectations on boys and men may be part of the issue as well.
Some may suggest that I am blaming men (this happened last week) but we know that many behaviours demonstrated by boys are due to expectations, the desire to fit in. There’s that C.S Lewis connection again.
Lifestyle is part of the issue. We have seen boys and men claiming that they are not at risk to Covid-19. We have seen many boys and young men showing a sense of defiance to the guidance around social isolation. My request to men is to get across to other men and boys that they are not immune to this horrid virus. For me it’s not do as I say more it’s “DO AS I DO.”
I talk a lot about a need for better male leadership in society around violence and abuse. I feel we need similar around Covid-19.
To end, this period in our lives will pass. Life will go on. It may be different for some time yet, but we will get back to the times we had before the virus hit. Don’t stop interacting with people. It may seem that our leaders are telling us not to. We do need to see a narrative that helps us maintain connection at this challenging time.
Remember – Stay at home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. Be that active bystander.