Bystander intervention for good | Nate Burke | TEDxSchriever
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Bystander intervention for good | Nate Burke | TEDxSchriever

Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Maricene Crus I’m very excited to be here
with you all today, and to be talking about this topic,
this theme of community. There are a lot of communities
that I belong to, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it
in preparation for this talk. I could list off several things. I thought about telling you all
the types of communities I belong to, like Harry Potter lovers
and Game of Thrones lovers. There are lots of things
that I feel connected to. One community that I am a part of
is a community of survivors. A few years ago, I was sexually assaulted, and over the past year, I’ve been
learning how to share that story, after about two years of very intentionally never
sharing it with anyone, ever. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail
today about the story, except to say that it is
a community that I belong to, and it’s part of what brings me
to the work that I do now. I work for Green Dot, as was said. We’re a nonprofit organization, and it’s a strategy that aims to reduce
power-based, personal violence, things like sexual assault
and domestic violence and stalking. And when I think about all those issues,
I have a lot of connections to them. There are a lot of people in my life
who’ve been impacted, friends, family members. But probably, the biggest connection
is my own assault. A few years ago,
I was raped by another man, and it was violent and traumatic, and it messed me up for a long time. And I think part of the reason
it messed me up so much is because I had no frame
of reference for it. I had never heard a story
like mine before. I had never heard stories
of men as victims, stories of same-sex assault, and so I didn’t know how to process it
and I didn’t know how to cope. And so, I just shut
everyone out of my life, and I just struggled
internally with depression and shame and guilt and confusion
and so many feelings. It took a long time to heal,
it took a long time to begin to heal, it took a long time to begin to figure out
how to talk about this story or to even see the value in sharing it. But what I want to talk about today,
with this theme of community, is how can we think about community through the lens of the shared
responsibility we have for keeping our communities safe
from interpersonal violence? And not just in considering
bystander intervention, but in considering the real obstacles that can make it hard sometimes
for us to step in. Even though I had been
directly impacted by violence, there was another time in my life when I could’ve stepped in
on behalf of someone else, and I didn’t. That’s what I want to talk about today,
the times we don’t act. That time for me is something
I’ve thought about a lot, and I’ve had a lot of guilt
and shame over, but when I first was exposed
to some of the elements of Green Dot, I started to understand that story
in a different light. There are some real things that can make it hard for us
to intervene sometimes. There are a lot of elements
to Green Dot we could talk about, a lot of parts of their strategy, but the one part I want to focus in on
as it relates to our theme is the idea of barriers and the fact that
even when we’re good people, and even when we see something concerning, there can be things within our control,
outside of our control, there can be a whole lot of things
that can make it hard for us to step in, things that can make it hard for us to act and at the very least cause us
to question ourselves or the situation or hesitate, right? So, to highlight just three of those
categories of barriers we talk about – There are three barriers,
three types of barriers. The first barrier is personal. Personal barriers are the things
that are about us and our experiences, and this kind of connects
to my own story too. Personal barriers may be,
like, your personality. Maybe you’re just more shy, or you hate confrontation. Anyone hate confrontation? You’ll do it if you have to,
but if there’s any way to avoid it, you’ll want to get out
of that confrontation thing. That shyness could be
a personal barrier for you, if you feel like the only way to step in is to have a direct
confrontation with someone. Maybe it’s your size:
you’re a smaller person and there’s a real fear
for your safety if you intervene. Or even the opposite. One time, I was at a base
and I had a guy who was a big dude. Like, he was just really buff
and “mascular,” a little bit. And “mascular”? That was like
“masculine” and “muscular.” That’s how buff this dude was.
He was “mascular.” (Laughter) And he was a little bit intimidating, but he said when he wants
to intervene in a situation, what he does is he stands up and he looks at them. (Laughter) Just the look, and that will do it. For some reason, that doesn’t work
for me in the same way. (Laughter) But he said that that was also
a little bit of a barrier for him because he said his size
was so intimidating that he knew, as soon as
he steps in the situation, even if he was just checking in, it’s immediately going to escalate,
people are going to want to fight, right? So, your personal characteristics,
your personality, your fears, any of those things about yourself
could be personal barriers that could create obstacles
and make it hard to intervene. Personal is one category of barriers. A second is relationship. If personal barriers is about us, then relationship barriers
is about everyone else in our life. How are they going to respond
to my intervention? Are they going to have my back? Are they going to think I went too far? That I crossed the line,
I didn’t mind my own business, I broke an unwritten code? Maybe I’m just uncomfortable
calling my buddy out on his marriage because that’s a very personal thing, and I was taught in my family
and in my culture you don’t get involved
in other people’s business, right? Anything that could have
a potential relationship cost can be relationship barriers. They can make it hard for us
to intervene in a situation. Personal barriers is about us, relationship barriers
is about other folks around us, and a third kind is organizational. There are organizational barriers
within your workplace, within the Air Force, structural things
that can create obstacles, that can make it harder for you
to act or feel like you should act; things like rank, fear of reprisal, not wanting to impact your career
or someone else’s career, thinking about performance evaluations
and promotion opportunities, right? Maybe you just don’t want
to create tension in the workplace, with the people you’re going
to have to see every day. Like, “If I report this person and then
I have to be around them all the time, I don’t want to do that.” There are a lot of things that could be
organizational or structural that could make me think,
“I can’t do this.” Or, “I don’t want to do this.”
Or, “Someone else will do this.” “It’s not that bad, it’s not my job.
Someone else will handle it.” The point is, whatever kind
of situation we see, there are lots of types of barriers
we could bump up against. They could make us think,
“You know, I don’t think I can do this,” or, “Someone else will do it.” Maybe there are times you can think of
when you saw something concerning, and you didn’t do anything about it. I mentioned already
I have a story like that. And starting to understand a bit
of this strategy about types of barriers and the reasoning for them has helped me to sort of process
and think back on that event. Just to tell you briefly, I was with a bunch of friends one night, and I just left them – we had dinner –
and I started walking home alone. And I was in this downtown area,
walking alone at night, and I walked past a fight
that was happening. It was one guy getting beaten up
pretty badly by two other guys who were yelling gay slurs at him. Immediately, I knew this was a problem. Immediately, I knew
that this guy was in trouble. And yet, when I looked at them, what I really saw was
my own experience, my own assault, and it was triggering for me. And even though I’m a good person, and even though I knew
this person needed my help, I froze. I just stood there. I couldn’t walk away
nor walk toward them, so I just stood right where I was. Eventually, some other people
came up and they helped, and the guy was okay
but not because of anything that I did. Maybe if I’d been there long enough, eventually I’d have thought
of something else to do, but in real time, in real life, I didn’t. I hit up against the personal barrier
of my own experience, that filtered the way I saw the situation and what I felt like I could
realistically do in that moment. I hit a barrier, and I couldn’t
figure out how to get around it. Barriers are real, and pretending that they’re not or saying people just have
to push through and do it anyways hasn’t worked in reducing violence. So what if, instead, we thought
about what can we learn from the barriers, and how can we start to get around them? Maybe you’re someone who feels
like you don’t have a lot of barriers, like you can directly talk
to anyone, any time. Maybe you’re that “mascular” dude
who can just give people looks. You have no trouble speaking
to someone in any situation. But maybe that changes for you
if your kids are with you, or if in that moment you’re responsible
for someone else’s safety. Maybe that changes what you prioritize
or how you hesitate or what you feel like
is possible in that moment, right? So, barriers may be contextual, and maybe you don’t have the same
barriers now that you did years ago, but whatever your barriers are, they’ll
probably not just magically go away. If you identify that being shy
is a barrier for you, just because you identify that doesn’t mean all of a sudden
you’re not shy anymore. Or that rank is a barrier. Just because you identify that
doesn’t mean rank doesn’t exist anymore. So instead of saying
we have to get rid of our barriers, and we have to just break them down
and push through and do it anyways, that’s not realistic. Instead of saying you have
to get rid of your barriers, what if we thought about
how can you get around them? What are the strategies for acting
in spite of your barriers, right? What is something that you can do
even while you hate confrontation, even while your kids are with you, even while you’re thinking
about impacting someone’s career? What are those options
for still intervening? That’s what we call the Three Ds: strategies for getting around barriers, strategies for still taking
some sort of action, despite the things that can make it hard. The three Ds are “direct,”
“delegate” and “distract.” “Direct” is a lot like it sounds, you’re just directly
involving yourself in a situation. It can be confrontational,
like physically separating people, or saying, like, “You need to back off,
you need to cool down.” It could be non-confrontational,
just checking in on someone, “Is everything OK? I’ve been noticing this thing
and I’m kind of worried.” Whatever it is, you are
directly involving yourself. That is one strategy. It’s not always the best option
for every person or every situation. “Direct” is one strategy. A second strategy is “delegate,” and “delegate” is just about
getting other people involved. So it can be delegating to someone
in a position of authority, to the appropriate agencies on base, to your supervisor, to cops,
to a bartender, to a chaplain, just getting other people involved. It doesn’t even have
to be anyone in authority, it can be a friend. We probably all have that one friend;
they’ll say anything to anyone, that does not care
what anybody thinks about it. Some of you are that friend,
you’re pointing at each other. You probably have that friend.
I have, I’ll just tell you. His name is Michael. Michael will say anything to anyone! He doesn’t care what anybody
thinks about it, and I love it! Ah, I love it so much
because I use it to my advantage. I get him to say the things
that I want to be said, but don’t want to deal
with the consequences for. It’s a good strategy. So I know with Michael all I have to do
is just aim him in the right direction, and he’s off and he’ll handle it! So maybe you have a Michael
that you could delegate to, right? “Delegate” can be
a power-in-numbers thing, “Let’s handle this together. You talk
to that person, I’ll talk to this one.” The point is you’re just
getting other people involved, right? So “direct,” you’re directly
doing something. “Delegate,” you’re getting
other folks to do something. And then, the third
strategy is “distract,” which is about moving the focus away
from what’s happening, long enough to break the tension, to de-escalate, to defuse a situation, or just to give you enough time
to get someone to safety. One of my favorite stories
of someone using a “distract” is one that a colleague of mine told me, that a participant – had actually done after being through
one of our trainings. So, he was at a house party. And he’s at a house party
with a bunch of his friends, just kind of drinking
and having a good time. But he noticed that there was a woman
there who was really, really intoxicated, and that another guy at the party
was leading her away from her friends, back toward a bedroom. And he just knew right then
that this is not okay. But the guy was his friend too. They were all hanging out together, all friends just having
a good time, drinking. So what did not feel realistic
to him in that moment was having a big, heated
drunken discussion with his friends about appropriate conduct and consent. It wasn’t reasonable at that time. But what did feel realistic
is what he did do, which is kind of amazing. He yelled out to the guy and told him that his car
was getting towed, which was a total lie, it was complete BS, but the guy had to, like, run outside,
and he went to go check on his car! And in that time that he was gone, the other guy was able to get
the woman back to her friends, who then got her back home safely. The guy comes back in and says,
“My car wasn’t getting towed.” “Oh, my bad. Sorry. Someone said it was.
Let’s play beer pong.” Right? Nothing happened.
There was no confrontation! So sometimes a “distract”
may be a good option too, where you just interrupt the situation and try to stop that bad thing
from happening, right? So, you can just randomly, like,
interject yourself into a situation. If you see someone’s taking someone home,
say, “Great, I need a ride too,” and just hop in,
be that awkward third wheel. Accidentally spill your drink and just make a really
dramatic scene of it, if you want. Set off your car alarm,
ask to borrow someone’s phone, whatever it can be. You don’t even have
to directly acknowledge this thing that you’re
seeing might be bad. You just get to still try to intervene. So the point is, no matter
what situation you may come across or what kind of barriers you may feel, there are lots and lots
of options for intervening. Barriers are real, and if we pretend they’re not, we’re not having a meaningful discussion
about bystander intervention. If we want to meaningfully talk
about what it takes to empower and equip bystanders to step in for the people
in their community, then we have to acknowledge
what makes it hard and figure out what we can do,
what we can learn about that. And the three Ds, there’s
no one-size-fits-all solution. You’re all different people, with different experiences
and personalities, but the three Ds give you
a toolkit of options that you get to pick and choose from and in that moment decide
what feels most realistic for you. This idea of community is so important! We live in community with one another, and we want our community,
our people, to be safe. So we each have a role to play in that. Nobody has to do everything, but everyone can do something. Thank you all so much. (Applause)

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