• Bullies and bystanders: When cowards have audiences of cowards

    by David Lacy

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke.

    As new forms of bullying have increased in recent years (e.g., cyber bullying), one thing remains constant: Bullies have an extensive support system.

    A support system of cowards, that is.

    A sociological study (by Katherine Liepe-Levinson and Martin H. Levinson) revealed that juvenile bullying frequently occurs in front of a crowd of bystanders, a crowd that almost never intervenes in the bullying process and even frequently participates in verbally abusing the victim or, at the very least, rooting on the perpetrator.

    Bizarrely enough, these crowds of bystanders are often made up of people who would never be direct bullies themselves. Many bystanders have admitted to researchers that they later felt disgust and significant self-loathing for even the most minimal involvement in a bullying event.

    In junior high and most of high school I was more frequently ostracized than targeted. As an overweight kid who hadn’t been born in the same clique-ish small town as everyone who knew each other their entire lives, I did face my share of verbal abuse (sometimes serious and degrading) and was occasionally pushed around as well. (Ironically in my early 20s I began forming close friendships with a number of the people who were “popular” back in high school.) However, I mostly spent every lunch break of my junior high years wandering the perimeter of campus alone, waiting desperately for the bell to ring to signal our return to classes. Without exaggeration, I can state that I had ZERO friends for years.

    I’ve told very few people what was going through my head during those seemingly endless lunch hours. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it now but I’m still confident enough to do so:

    I imagined I was part of the cast of a show nearly identical to Beverly Hills 90210. Yes, you read that correctly.

    I am not making this up, nor am I attempting to be humorous. I played out, in serial continuance in my mind, soap-operatic scenarios featuring the cast of the ’90s teen show, a few of my high school crushes, and myself. In these imaginary episodes I was one of the popular kids, dealing with dating and break-ups, drugs and teen angst. It’s pathetic, I know, but it’s honestly the only thing that kept me distracted enough from breaking down and crying in some darkened corner of Emerson Junior High.

    Which I have done.

    And here comes the hard part to admit. Here comes the part that hits my brain and my gut simultaneously so hard I sometimes want to vomit. I sometimes HATE myself over this.

    I have witnessed bullying.

    And I have been a bystander.

    Standing in a crowd, watching a fight that wasn’t really an equal fight but rather a ring around harassment. I remained silent. I remained standing with the group. And I did so because standing with the group was so much less painful than standing in the middle of the circle side-by-side with the victim.

    Because standing in the group meant I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the target.

    It takes a lot of courage to stand up in a crowd and defend someone who is being humiliated.

    It takes tremendous strength to break away from a mob of cowardly tormentors and lend a hand to someone who is being humiliated and harassed.

    I had no such strength as a kid.



    • As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”

      And now you are a voice for good through your writing. You are not the silent bystander any more.


      • Norbie Kumagai

      • July 1, 2012 at 9:41 am
      • Reply

      “It takes a lot of courage to stand up in a crowd and defend someone who is being humiliated.” Simple But Powerful Words…

      Mr. Lacy, I am truly humbled by our friendship. I thought of our conversation the first time we met as I was talking to Gary Sandy last night. I am deeply saddened to hear that you were treated that way while growing up here in Davis.

      We are no longer bystanders.



    • i didn’t think i could love you more… but i do. i do.



    • Was this Emerson Junior high in Westwood? That is our home school. Just curious. I hear your words David and am glad you are who you are and express your words so thoughtfully.


      • Kelvin

      • July 1, 2012 at 1:16 pm
      • Reply

      Excellent. Honest. You really laid it out there and wrote an excellent piece that many will be able to relate to. I hate getting involved. That’s what makes it so easy and comfortable to be a bystander. You think, “There’s a lot of people standing around. Someone else can handle it.” I don’t want to be the one to stick my neck out. But, as you know, it’s not easy living with doing nothing. I’ve done that and it’s soul crushing.


      • David

      • July 1, 2012 at 2:36 pm
      • Reply

      Thank you all. Kelvin, your piece had a lot of raw honest overlap. We were in synch this week!



    • amazing how many of us occupied dark corners at school dances, ate alone under the one tree on the play ground, and prayed those kids walking towards us weren’t going to beat the crap out of us. to this day, I see a bully in any form and I go a bit ballistic. thank you for your courageous writing and for inspiring those of us who know bullying first hand to lend a hand when we know it’s needed.


      • Judy N

      • July 1, 2012 at 4:39 pm
      • Reply

      While speaking out, this piece gets at the vulnerabilities and fears that keep so many of us from doing so. An honest and complex piece.


      • Lynne Conrad-Forrest

      • July 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm
      • Reply

      I am glad you found the courage to share your inner torments. Hopefully it will be healing to you and helpful to many others. As the mother of three Emerson graduates and sister to another, I know that even in Davis we are not immune to cruelty. thanks!


      • David Lacy

      • July 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm
      • Reply

      Thank you very much Kristine and Judy.

      Also, Madge, this was Emerson Junior High in Davis actually.


      • Vita C.

      • July 1, 2012 at 7:48 pm
      • Reply

      David, I’ve loved you since I offered to help you with your math homework after reading one of your columns about your frustration with the subject. How courageous to admit this. I think I’ve pretty much been known as the one to take on the bully, but I know I crossed the line into bullying myself while doing so once in Junior High. I’ve never forgiven myself either. Those years are so hard for everyone. Raging hormones, the desire to be exactly like everyone else, wanting to be incredible, wanting to not stand out at the same time….. Please, forgive your childhood self, learn from the torment you’ve carried, and know that you have the courage to never be the bystander again.


      • Christy

      • July 1, 2012 at 8:51 pm
      • Reply

      I wish I was your friend…but I was barfing (out of anxiety) in the other corner of Emerson. I was bullied, and then maybe even bullied some people myself, and then also the coward/stand-by – Junior High SUCKED! Wonderful piece David. That was the toughest time in my life as well, and I wish we had had each other back then =)


      • Blahgger

      • July 1, 2012 at 11:12 pm
      • Reply

      I went to summer school at Emerson Junior High in Westwood (L.A.), and then years later was amazed to move to Davis and find a different Emerson Jr. Hi in a part of West Davis they occasionally call “Westwood.” Thanks for the column, David!



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