Busy Body or Advocate?

Massachusetts educators have a legal responsibility to speak up if they see
evidence of neglect or abuse. 
I often talk to my students about the role of bystander, the one who stands by and watches negative action happen, but does not act himself or herself.

So much of the bad news last year could have been prevented if someone had spoken up or acted. Just think, in so many of the unjustified shootings that happened, a bystander could have grabbed the person's arm and prevented the unjust act.

I tell students that they need to act if they can safely act in the face of injustice or tell a trusting adult if they can't safely act on their own.

When it comes to our role as teachers, parents, and community members, we have to be careful that we're not bystanders too. We need to speak up if we see injustice or unsafe behavior.

When faced with the decision to speak up or not, I always ask myself the following questions:
  • What's the worst thing that can happen if I don't speak up, and can I live with that?
  • Is this information that others are unlikely to know?
  • Will this information potentially change the way the person is cared for, treated, and supported?
  • Might this information help people?
Many don't speak up because speaking up sometimes is labeled with the negative title, "busy body." It's true we don't want to be busy bodies, the kind of people that have their nose in everyone else's business. If it doesn't concern us and it's not something that can make positive change, then we should stick to our own lives and interests. However, if the information can positively make a difference, I think we have to be courageous and speak up.

Recently I spoke up in this regard. The information was not received well since it meant more work and a tough decision for the person receiving the information. The person has to decide to act or not. Since I know that person has much more knowledge and information about the situation, I will honor the choice made, but from my vantage point, I had to share the information just in case it made a positive difference for a child.

Also, in another situation, the child's name and situation came coming to mind day after day. That tugging imagery and thinking finally prompted me to speak up. What if I didn't speak up and harm was done? I would feel responsible and disappointed with myself since speaking up could possibly make a difference. In this situation, like the one above, the person I spoke to has much more information and knowledge than I do so I will honor their choice.

Long ago I witnessed a situation where someone spoke up to authorities about a difficult situation. Authorities promptly acted, and while the situation wasn't completely remedied, it did get better. It was worth that person speaking up for positive change.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." We have to heed his wise words, and speak up with respect and the knowledge that we don't know all things when faced with important information. In situations like this, we are not busy bodies, but instead advocates for what is right and good. 


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