Jul 232010

Gratitude to a commenter who linked to India’s Bell Bajao campaign, targeting domestic violence.

It’s a bystander intervention. It doesn’t aim to change the behavior of either person the violent situation – not directly. It doesn’t even necessarily increase awareness of support services for survivors. It just asks bystanders – people aware of but outside the violent situation – to step in and diffuse the situation.

There is a curious paradox about why people don’t step in when they see something uncool happening. They notice the uncool thing and think, “Hm. That’s uncool. But what should I do?” And they look around and see that no one else is doing anything. The paradox is that they conclude that because everyone is doing the same thing they’re doing – i.e., nothing – all those other people must feel something different. “No one else is doing anything; if something were wrong, someone would do something.” We use others’ behavior rather than our own internal experience to gauge whether or not to do something; overriding that tendency is the goal of a bystander intervention.

(That’s not ALL the reasons we don’t step in; it’s just a big and especially changeable one.)

Two key ways to increase the likelihood that a bystander will do something:

(1) Minimize perceived risk by

    (a) teaching low-risk intervention strategies like distraction, interruption, and delegation – you don’t have to go up to someone and say, “Hey, quit that!” You can just ask for milk.
    (b) decreasing ambiguity by teaching bystanders to recognize when a situation is not okay – in the case of the Ring the Bell campaign, it’s when you hear yelling and conflict escalation between two people who live together; and
    (c) shifting the perception of alliance with the victim; bystanders who are members of the dominant group take a massive social risk by standing up for a subordinate person or group, and you can decrease the perception of that risk if you reframe a bystander intervention as standing up for the majority, the group, the other bystanders. That ain’t too PC, but there it is.

(2) Ask bystanders to do something. Just by asking, you increase a bystander’s sense of personal responsibility and decrease the ambiguity of the situation.

And, by the way, you have all now, officially, been asked.