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  • Amy J.L. Baker

"Upstander" as Opposed to a "Bystander"

Yesterday I took a walk around my neighborhood and passed a mother who was bustling out of her home, clearly stressed and unhappy. Her teenage daughter left the house a moment later, glum and tentative. As the mother approached where I was, she called over her shoulder to her daughter, admonishing her in a harsh tone. She yelled a variety of unkind and curse words at her daughter and threatened her loudly to get her act together. My heart went out to the teen who was being treated in such a harsh and demeaning way by her mother and in front of a stranger, me. As the mother approached me, I felt her hot glare at me seeming to dare me to say something about her behavior which was in her opinion obviously none of my business. I shrank in response to her hostility and went on my way with my walk. The experience brought to my mind the idea that my colleague Marla Brassard introduced me to of being an "upstander" as opposed to a "bystander." Being an "upstander" means standing up for children as opposed to just standing by while a child is being treated badly. Even though I had attended the training on what it means to be an upstander, I still did not feel comfortable -- in the heat of the moment -- to say something to this woman. I realize that I have some work to do in my personal journey as an upstander. One thought that comes to my mind is that perhaps I could have offered to help the mother -- she was clearly stressed about something. Perhaps if I started by thinking about her well-being, I would have had a foothold into the family and would have been in a better position to comment about her harsh treatment of her child. This is a good reminder that the child resides in the context of a family (and community) and that one way to help children is to help their parents. This is the lesson that Dr. Fontana himself wrote about so many years ago and is as relevant today as it was then.

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