Turning Bystanders Into Upstanders: We Have Higher Expectations for School Children Than Our Senators

by*stand*er – a person present at an event or incident, but does not take part; onlooker, spectator, witness

up*stand*er – an individual who sees wrong and acts; a person who takes a stand against an act of injustice or intolerance


On Thursday, President Trump hosted a lunch with ten U.S. Senators, four Democrats and six Republicans, for the purpose of building bipartisan support for his SCOTUS nominee, Neil Gorsuch.  Seems fairly innocuous, even hopeful, right?  Reporters were allowed to cover the beginning of the event, making for a positive photo op.  Look!  Blue and Red can sit down together!  Progress!


Reports are surfacing that right after the departure of the press, Trump turned to the Democrats in the room and said to them (“mocked” and “taunted” is how it has been characterized), “Pocahontas is now the face of your party,” referring to their fellow senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren.

Trump has a history of using ‘Pocahontas’ as a pejorative term in referring to Senator Warren, after she identified herself as having Native American heritage.  It is considered by most to be an ethnic slur and Trump has been roundly criticized for using it on the campaign trail last year.


But this is not a post about Donald Trump, a man I personally believe exhibits many of the accepted signs of being a bully.  Most experts agree those traits include (sourced here):

  • Impulsiveness
  • Anger management problems
  • Tries to control other people, rather than inspiring others to follow
  • Easily frustrated and annoyed
  • Lacks empathy, isn’t sympathetic to anyone’s needs or desires but their own
  • Blames a victim for his own behavior by saying things like, “If that geek didn’t look so stupid, I wouldn’t have to hit him.”
  • Difficulty following rules and little respect for authority
  • View violence in a positive way, such as a form of entertainment or a good way to get needs met

There is a growing awareness in America of the detrimental nature of bullying and how it negatively impacts our children. Much research has been done, many dollars have been spent in order to better understand how to curb bullying in our school environments. A growing number of schools in the U.S. have enacted a zero tolerance policy for bullying behavior.  Along with increased awareness of the act of bullying has been an increased understanding of how the community can help contain and directly confront the actions of bullies.

Teaching children to be “upstanders” rather than “bystanders” is one of those methods getting a lot of traction and is endorsed by bullying experts.  In simple terms, the idea is to teach those who witness the bullying behavior to challenge it.  That can be accomplished by either confronting the bully in the moment, or standing up to call out the bullying behavior and label it for what it is. Research demonstrates that when one witness to the bullying, a bystander, challenges it, others are more likely to follow.  The bystander, in doing so, has now become an upstander.


You can read and watch more about being an upstander here or here.

And this is where I struggle.  Schools across America are investing time and money — both scant resources in education these days, which gives an indication of how much these lessons are valued and needed, in helping school children gain the necessary tools to combat bullying behavior themselves.  There are increasing expectations and motivations encouraging children to stand up to bullies, call them out, shut them down.  And the efforts seem to be working.

Cut to Thursday’s meeting at the White House where our Bully in Chief, President Trump, speaking to an audience of ten U.S. Senators, calls one of their colleagues “Pocahontus.”  Immediately after the cameras left, of course.  The same senator who was silenced on the floor of the senate just days earlier after being told not to denigrate her colleague, Jeff Sessions, during his confirmation hearing debates.  The irony is staggering.

I have read several reports of the meeting and what is most troubling to me is the fact that not a single senator challenged President Trump for mocking a fellow senator or abusing his power as President.  They sat there, silent and complicit, both Democrats and Republicans.  Turns out, being cowardly is not restricted to a single political faction.  Someone or someones leaked the story, as both Politico and CNN reported on it yesterday.

Stories indicate the climate in the room during the exchange was “awkward,” awkward, apparently, being code for knowing something was transpiring that was wrong, but no one present had the will or courage to challenge it.  Instead, they relied on the press, an institution already in Trump’s bad graces, to let Americans know what had happened.

Should we expect at least as much from a sitting U.S. Senator as we do our school children?  Why, yes, yes we should.  These elected officials could learn something from children across the U.S. who are encouraged to do something they themselves are unable or unwilling to do.

Is it harder when the bully is our president?  Certainly.  Is it any less important?  Definitely not.  I’m talking to you, Senators Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Jon Tester, Lamar Alexander, Chris Coons, Shelley Moore Capito, John Cornyn, Chuck Grassley, Joe Donnelly and Michael Bennet.


RELATED:  We Teach Our Kids Not to Act Like Donald Trump, And Yet He May Be Our Next President

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