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Inventor of bystander intervention talks courage

Mike Dilbeck talks to students about bystander intervention. Madeleine Cook | Hatchet Photographer
Mike Dilbeck talks to students about bystander intervention. Madeleine Cook | Hatchet Photographer
This post was written by Hatchet reporter Justine Coleman.

The inventor of bystander intervention Mike Dilbeck spoke to GW students at the Smith Center Wednesday night on how to be a “powerful bystander.”

Dilbeck has visited more than 250 universities in the U.S. to talk about bystander intervention, which he said can be effective in situations from sexual assault to a discriminatory joke. His program called “Response Ability” is based on motivating students to stand up for others.

Dilbeck described the night as a “conversational journey,” and promised to change each member of the audience, if they took his advice.

“No one will probably notice a difference except you, how you experience yourself and know yourself and relate to yourself as someone who really can go out in this world, on this campus, in your communities and make the difference that you want to make for others,” Dilbeck said.

Here are a few pieces of advice to take away from the program:

1. Reflect on your own experience as a bystander

Dilbeck asked the audience to reflect on their own stories dealing with a lack of bystander intervention.

“I really challenge you to at least think of one story where you were either at the effect of someone else’s behavior and no one else intervened, or maybe you didn’t intervene in something inappropriate, offensive, unhealthy, maybe even illegal,” he said.

He emphasized that by keeping this story in mind, the “abstract values” discussed during the night would become more meaningful.

2. Courage is the best value

Dilbeck said the one quality that people observe in others and want to obtain most is courage.

“There’s a virtue that I think stands above them all. A virtue that we all aspire to have and show more in our lives, and that virtue is courage,” he said.

Dilbeck said the reason people usually remember their negative instances as a bystander more than their positive ones is because they support the negative claims that they make about themselves.

“I believe the primary reason we do that is this raw human emotion called fear,” Dilbeck said. “Just like fish don’t know they swim in water, we don’t know we swim in fear.”

3. Taking action, but not confrontation

Each observation of a situation causes a person to make a choice about how he or she wants to react either as a passive bystander or a powerful bystander. Dilbeck said action is what can make the difference between the two types.

“We have a lot of good intention in this world,” he said “What we don’t have enough of is action.”

Dilbeck said there are three different approaches to acting as a powerful bystander: Shifting the focus, shifting the situation and shifting the person.

He shared shifting the focus would not be a permanent solution for the perpetrator but could distract them for the moment, such as spilling a drink on someone. Shifting the situation would be by involving oneself directly either by preventing the situation from occurring, such as taking car keys away from a drunk friend.

The most confrontational would be shifting the person, in which someone would talk to the perpetrator about their actions after carefully thinking through what the best approach for the person would be. Dilbeck advised students to use school resources to get more information about how to use this approach.

“These are not three mutually exclusive options that don’t overlap,” he said. “Sometimes in a particular situation you may use one, two, or all three of these approaches.”

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