Active Bystander


Recently, I’ve undergone a bunch of active bystander training and it’s fundamentally changed how I move through the world. Part of this is coming from re-certifying for CPR & first aid, part of this is because Lauren now teaches classes classes about the subject.

In case you didn’t know, an active bystander is defined as ‘someone who not only witnesses a situation, but takes steps to speak up or step in to keep a situation from escalating or to disrupt a problematic situation.’

The basic model is, if you notice a ‘situation’ that is wrong, or might be wrong/dangerous (harassment, dangerous behavior, discrimination, et al) you asses to see and offer what kind of help -if any- might be appropriate and safe. This ‘help’ can range from changing body position to stand along someone, to using humor, to saying ‘I don’t like what you’re doing,’ to offering to summon police/authority. For me, the most important aspect of this is not that I’m necessarily going to ‘solve’ things, but that I am more actively combatting my human biases of defused responsibility, that I am not -via silence/inaction- implying that I/society is supportive of shitty, unsafe behavior. It is training to act, to use what tools I have to try and have improved outcomes for everyone which is forever tempered by the fact that I’m not world police and I often don’t know what’s going on if is ok. But my judgement about when and how I can best help improves with practice.

There’s a pretty good summary of the active bystander concept (as well as information about the tools/techniques used) here but I wanted to discuss some examples of what this has looked like/felt like in my life.

  1. Domestic Dispute while Out with My Daughter

Some months back, I was walking with my daughter home from the park, and while a man was getting in his car a woman was marching away down a nearby alley, flipped him off, and yelled something about Continue reading

On Why so Many of ‘Us’ Suffer

Recently, a friend posted ‘Why do so many of ‘US’ suffer?’ Which was a question I found interesting and personally relevant, so I ended up writing a 4000 word response which I broke into several comments; both in terms of ‘US’ in the smallest and grandest sense I could manage. And now I’ve collected it all as a note.

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.” From Howl by Allen Ginsberg

I think about this quote sometimes, think about how it was true -for Ginsberg- then, and how it certainly feels true now.

I know a great many people I love who suffer, terribly. The causes and particular species of suffering are legion: anxiety, depression, loneliness, and all manner of ill of mind, body, and spirit. The fact that these people are so often brilliant, loving, kind, hard working, beautiful, and -depending on how you calculate such things- some of the most materially wealthy, successful, and powerful homo sapiens who have ever lived would be consistently shocking if it didn’t appear with such regularity.

We suffer for reasons that are (at least) as Continue reading

On the Stories I Tell Myself

Note: If Google Docs is to be believed I Initially Wrote this post in March 2016. I posted it to facebook but it somehow never got posted here. In light of my *last* post, I thought I should post it, again; for the first time. Because it it newly true.

I’ve been thinking recently about the stories I tell myself about the world and my friends and also, most importantly, the stories I tell myself about myself. I’m constantly weaving these narratives. “Well, this happened so he must think I’m incompetent,” or “That didn’t work hence trying this was a terrible idea.” I don’t think it’s possible (ultimately) to wholly avoid telling myself stories; and even if it were possible I’m not sure if it would be *useful.*

As a human being, I connect dots\points of data in order to make predictions & inform my behavior. One of the great problems with this incredible ability however is that every story is ‘sticky;’ they can so readily encourage me to overlook or misinterpret experience that doesn’t fit the narrative. It is of the highest importance to really evaluate the stories I tell myself; to avoid, replace, or otherwise transform the stories which don’t serve me. And I have a choice in all this: for instance, when facing failure or setback I get to choose to see it as indicative of a fundamental flaw in myself or I can choose to see it as part of the price I pay to learn & grow. Either ‘could’ be true (although I suspect the the latter is *more* true, most of the time); so it comes down to which story gets me closer to the life I want. Continue reading

On Quietly Losing My Mind

For a few months now, I’ve been quietly losing my mind.

In talking about what has happened, I think the easiest personal reaction for this is for me to collapse into apologies about it all because I *shouldn’t* be having these problems, I *should* have know, done better (or at least, that’s what that crappy internal voice claims… but then again he’s an asshole). I recently had a dream where a gifted impressionist was going to do his ‘John’ impersonation, which amounted to laying down on the floor and repeating ‘I’m sorry’ for some minutes. Dream me found this hilarious, while waking me winces at the recognition.

By objective measures, I’ve been doing ok… or even Continue reading

Be More Materialistic

This is the essay version of a recent Toastmasters speech. Hat tip to David at Rapitude whose piece We are not Materialistic Enough Inspired this speech/essay.


To be ‘Materialistic’ means ‘excessively concerned with material possessions, money-oriented’ and I’m not advocating that you, or anyone should be ‘excessively concerned’ with anything. But, in common usage, we mainly say ‘materialistic’ to describe people who aren’t sufficiently concerned with material possessions but who instead are interested in status and image and the appearance of wealth (and who are often quite unconsciously so). To illustrate, let me tell you a story about my daughter.

At two and half years of age, my daughter is innocently materialistic. This last Christmas was her third Christmas; her first Christmas was just another swirling cascade of sights and sounds without much context, her second Christmas was dominated by the crinkle joy of pulling wrapping paper apart, but this was perhaps the first Christmas wherein she understood that she was being given things that would be hers.

She would be given a present, a book say, and after opening it she would immediately want Continue reading