Heroes Active Bystandership
Abigail Tucker, Heroes Co-Founder
We cannot remain silent.
Karen was the first to text the Heroes team as news of Uvalde broke and, in the weeks
following, we all expressed sadness, sorrow and horror. Karen was also the first to nudge us to the next level discussion: Why did this happen and what is our role to prevent future tragedies? Joel contributed his perspective and acknowledgment of our role as trainers in active bystandership. Liza kept the balance with her shared, deep concern and caution for delivery of the message. I’ll be honest, my gut wanted to avoid. I wanted to stay in shock and sadness because it offered a cloak of avoidance and denial of responsibility. I listened as my team bounced thoughts and “what ifs,” and exchanged perspectives on how to stand up and speak out about the role of active bystandership in the wake of Uvalde……without crossing that unspoken yet real line where it burns, gets lost in translation, and worse, potentially sends the wrong message.
Sigh. “Karen you’re right, we cannot remain silent.”
Active bystandership is a skill that can be learned. While I know it is possible to forget things
you once learned, my personal experience is that active bystandership is nearly impossible to forget once you pair awareness, knowledge, skills, and a culture that authorizes peer intervention. At Heroes, we demand active bystandership, and being part of a team that does not shy from difficult conversations makes it easier to speak up. I joined the conversation, which prompted this reflection on Uvalde, with the awareness that rarely can you soothe pain with words alone, but sometimes you can learn from pain, put that into words, and prevent future harm.
I routinely share with folks when we train on active bystandership that it is not for the faint of heart. Being an active bystander means being courageous. Sitting with the discomfort of a difficult conversation is counteracted by active bystandership when we reflect on the harm caused by NOT intervening, by NOT saying something, by remaining passive. The risk of harm increases when we avoid talking about missed opportunities for active bystandership, the cultural and systemic realities that prevented action to stop harm, and sharing perspectives on how we might do things differently.
Let’s be clear that post-event debriefing (specific to active bystandership) is not about pointing fingers. It does not replace operational and investigative reviews. A culture that develops and supports peer intervention to prevent harm must apply this whenever possible, and while we all wish we could prevent harm proactively, that does not absolve us from post-event reflections to
listen, learn and prevent future harm. Humans are hardwired to learn from other human behavior, but all too often things like secondary trauma, social hierarchies, or cognitive biases
like “someone else will take care of this,” or “not my job” keep us from really listening, learning,
and preventing future harm.
This leads me to my final point that awareness and knowledge are only part of the solution.
Yes, I want to accentuate the capacity to learn from tragedy. However, I know that without the
skills of active bystandership, without practice of those skills, and without cultures and systems
that demand courageous peer intervention, your awareness will soon fade, changes will not occur, and harm will continue. Active bystandership is a skill that can be learned. Tap into your courage to have those hard conversations that lead to insight and use that knowledge to be an active bystander who decreases the risk of harm.
Our hearts, prayers, and thoughts are with the families, community, and responders in Uvalde. Our hopes, aspirations, and invitation is for active bystandership to become part of the solution to prevent future harm.