Stories about cases of bullying and cyberbullying, some with tragic results, routinely make headlines across the country.
But what can be done to combat an issue that seems to permeate schools in every community?
According to parent and author MacKenzie Bezos, part of the solution has to do with bystanders.
"Bullying and cyberbullying are the cause of so much suffering, and everyone would like to see the culture change. Reading articles about a school shooter’s backstory or a cyberbullying target’s suicide, I started wondering, if so many people would like to see the culture change, what’s standing in the way?" Ms. Bezos asked.
"It struck me that one of the biggest barriers to change is perception among bystanders – the idea that helping has to be hard."
She said that there remains a belief among many that bullying is somewhat of an intractable problem.
"A lot of the conventional wisdom about bullying is that it is a cultural norm that can’t be overcome," she says. "But there are so many small things an individual can do to help that have a huge impact."
Bezos is founder and executive director of Bystander Revolution, an anti-bullying organization that seeks to inspire simple acts of courage, kindness, and inclusion that can serve to diminish the power of bullying.
The organization’s website was launched in April 2014, intended to serve as a platform for direct, peer-to-peer advice about what practical things can be done to combat bullying. Its site was unveiled with a series of videos from celebrities, students, and leaders – all unscripted shorts covering a wide range of issues related to bullying.
“We’ve seeded the site with great content from students, leaders, and celebrities looking back with regret or satisfaction on moments that seemed small but had ripple effects they never could have imagined,” Bezos says. The site also encourages visitors to share their own stories, perspectives, and views by submitting a story in the form of a video.
A lot of the suffering that is caused by bullying is discussed on the internet, making the virtual platform the ideal space for Bystander Revolution, she says.
“We have a project where we reach out to people on Twitter who are looking for advice but don’t know where to turn for answers, along with others we see venting about their issues without expecting help,” she explains. “We respond directly with links to videos from our site that we think might be helpful, along with encouraging messages.”
The efforts have paid off, Bezos says.
“Sometimes the smallest acknowledgement that someone sees your pain is all it takes to start turning your outlook around,” she says.
The organization recently announced the addition of actress Lily Collins as one of its newest ambassadors. The actress, who had shared several videos on the organization’s site in the past, joined other speakers and performers April 23 at We Day Seattle. The event, part of an annual series, celebrated the efforts of some 15,000 students who are passionate about making a positive impact in the world.
Collins led a segment on social empowerment, delivering a speech on behalf of Bystander Revolution.
Her work with the organization, however, has gone much further. As the organization has a presence on Instagram, it came across a girl who was being bullied. However, what troubled the girl even more was seeing her own friends bully the person who was targeting her.
“She reached out to us and Lily Collins, our celebrity ambassador, for help,” Bezos says. “Lily advised her to block the offending Instagrammer, and we referred her to a video we made called ‘Break the Cycle’ with a message on how to break the cycle of bullying rather than responding to aggression with more aggression.”
The situation was quickly resolved, she says, adding, “We know we won’t witness most of the impact our work has, but seeing examples like this up close helps us imagine it.”
Bezos is motivated to continue the work of Bystander Revolution because she believes in the power of small acts of kindness and inclusion, and the sometimes incredible impact they can have.
“Everyone remembers small acts of kindness from friends and strangers years later,” she says, adding that promoting these acts can do wonders for those who might be struggling. “It’s exciting to me to think about all the good that can come of individuals making this kind of effort.”
• For more information about Bystander Revolution, visit www.bystanderrevolution.org.