Hazing Prevention

Don’t Just Stand There!

This article was originally published in the 2013 National Hazing Prevention Week Resource Guide ‘Know.Decide.Act’

Don’t Just Stand There! – a conversation about the action it takes to move your organization from mediocre to extraordinary

Bystander Behavior & Hazing Prevention

By Bonny Boutet

As humans, we struggle to pursue things where we fail to see drastic change. However, when it comes to a change in culture, a change in tradition, and a change in behavior, we must take a stand to begin to conquer what others have never accomplished: prevention of the H-word.

You may be thinking, “Can we really put an end to the H-word?” and my answer is, quite frankly, no. But there is hope. In order to prevent not-so-good things from happening in your organization and begin a conversation about the things our moral compass says is wrong, we must know where to start –and to know where to start, we must start at the beginning.

There is an average of 18 inches between the human brain and the heart. That is an 18 inch difference between action, emotion, and knowledge. There is an average of 4 inches between the human brain and the mouth. This is the distance between knowledge, action, saying something and speaking up for your moral compass. Even though the actual distance is not much, the difficulty to relay your heart’s emotions, to your head’s thoughts, and your mouth’s words, is difficult to do.

These three body parts – our heart, our head, and our mouth – are where hazing prevention can start. To start the conversation, I ask you three questions:

What do you believe?

What do you believe at your core? We each have a moral compass that can guide everything we believe, know and do. Through this you can focus on your values, morals, and ethics; whether individual or organizational. If you are a part of an organization and are working to make a difference with your peers, what is the organization’s philosophy? Wonder what a philosophy is? Look it up! Every group or person should have some sort of philosophy, mission or purpose for living and coming together. What does this say about you as a person? What does it say about your beliefs? Your beliefs are your heart. They are your core and without them, you may stop living for yourself.

What do you know?

What sort of knowledge do you have that makes you intelligent, dedicated, and aware? Our knowledge is what separates us from other species. We are a smart group of people, with the ability to self-direct, have independent thought and create new and innovative ideas. Our brain functions as our source of all knowledge where we can compartmentalize data and information.

What do we do?

Have you ever heard the saying, “actions speak louder than words?” What we do with our beliefs and thoughts is where power and change is created. The separation between where we are and where we want to be is action. Through our work and words, we can make action happen. We can discuss differences and commonalities in our beliefs and knowledge, challenging each other to possibly find new things that are worth knowing and believing in. Therefore, what we do can connect our beliefs and knowledge to create change.

It’s the interconnection between these three things that we can use as the agent of change to move us from complacency to action.

We must realize that if we do not know what we believe, how can we comprehend what we know, and articulate what we SHOULD do? If you know you SHOULD be having a conversation about the not-so-good things that are happening in your organization, but have nothing to support your claim, who is going to listen to you? So let’s start with the question “what do you (or your organization) believe?”

Every organization has a founding principle, guidelines, or mission. Once you determine that mission, work to identify how your beliefs fit into the larger picture. After you are able to identify what you believe, then you can move onto what you know.

If you know your organization is doing things that you know are not right – take note. Ask yourself, “Do they fit into our beliefs, my beliefs, or the organization’s beliefs?” If your answer is “no,” it’s time to start looking at what will you do.

This is often the hardest part, especially in regards to the H-word. But if you know what to focus in on, you can start the conversation about the not-so-good-things and the H-Word, and start the ACTION that will take your group from a hazing organization to a powerhouse of all organizational things.

Let’s do this!

“If you ever wonder if an action is big enough, come from the perspective of the victim.”

– Mike Dilbeck, Founder & CEO, The RESPONSE ABILITY Project

Beliefs and knowledge are often kept inside us—until we speak. Speaking up about the H-word is often times silenced for multiple reasons: our inner fear, external forces, fear of retaliation, group think, and/or “But it’s tradition.” It is at this point, we as humans respond with a flight or fight response, will we face our fear and take action; or be silent and ignore our moral compass? However, the larger question is, how do we empower ourselves, others, and our community to stand up against things we feel are morally wrong?

Here are a few tips.

You must know, decide, and act… yes, in that order. This three step processes may seem simple enough, yet we struggle to push what we believe and know into what we do. So if you know not-so-good things or the H-word is happening, you have to decide what you will do. Once you decide, you SHOULD act. Want to know how to act? Keep reading.

Pose this question to your peers: what is our standard of excellence? I hate to break it to you, but if your excuse for doing not so good things in your organization is because “well they do it in that organization,” you should probably check your beliefs. We all joined our organizations for specific reasons. Pointing the finger at another group only validates that we are on the same level as that other group –and we all want to be better than “that group.”

Identify the actual problem. No matter what we are working toward, we have to work to see beyond the surface level issue. If our new members are being forced to do something that makes our stomachs turn a bit, we need to focus in on what the actual problem is. Start with broad questions like: who is involved? What are their ages? What do they have in common? By asking these types of questions, you may realize your problem has gone from a chapter-wide issue, to a few upperclassmen that were hazed as younger members. Focus in on the real issue and address the real problem.

We must focus on the thing we can change. Since we so often stop working where we see little influence, we have to focus on what is in our sphere of influence. In the situation above, we cannot change the individual’s choice, but what we can change is how the organization responds –starting with us, we can change the access these upperclassmen have to the newer members, and we can change and influence the bystander behavior.

Example the chapter dynamic. Many times, hazing is a power dynamic. It’s a tradition that gets out of hand, power hungry members, or a joke that turned serious; no matter what circumstance, we must figure out who is taking power. If we find the power, we can often find the problem.

When we take these five tips into account to begin a conversation about not-so-good-things and the H-word, we have to know where and when to bring these conversations to light.

There are three areas people tend to work in: their comfort zone, growth zone, and danger zone. We typically operate in our comfort zone. Here we allow our beliefs and knowledge to travel down the path of least resistance, often times taken over by our fear and we cease to take action –also known as complacency. On the opposite end is the danger zone. In this area, we work to challenge others outside of an area they are willing to be challenged, often leading others to shut down. If we want to become extraordinary we have to move into the growth zone. In this zone we can use what we believe and know to influence what others and we will do, and can safely question others, identify and talk about problems, focus on change, and examine member dynamic to a point where we will be able to see an influence on preventing the H-word.

To find the growth zone, look for opportunities to ask lots of questions. By asking questions, you can clarify things you may have never noticed before, and by allowing others to answer may change what they believe, which can change what they know, and change what they will do.

Asking questions in the growth zone is the key to starting a conversation about the H-word and prevention.

If you want a simple way to find out how you can prevent the H-word –ask why. A simple answer to the question why can shake the tradition of the H-word in your chapter. This question focuses on behavior, the “what do we do” part of our bystander behavior and can push all other hazing behaviors forward, especially if we do not intervene.

Ask: Why are these individuals involved? Why are they motivated to haze? Why is there a history of this in our chapter? Why are these perceptions of tradition in our organization? These questions will lead you and the individual in the conversation to the growth zone. The answers to these questions will give you the beliefs of the organization –whether misconstrued or not, the knowledge, and the reasons you SHOULD act.

No matter how we look at it, we all have a right (and at times an expectation) to say something. Because of our beliefs, knowledge, moral compass, and commitment to our organization, we deserve better. We are better –better than groupthink, better than silence, better than tradition.

Tradition can be the end of progress. How will you use your beliefs and knowledge to connect your heart and brain to your words and add to the progress?