Last week I had a heart to heart conversation with a lad who had been an observer at a social interaction where one boy had been more than verbally aggressive with another. When I asked the student if he could replay the tape of what had happened, he quickly admitted, “One guy was just chirping another, and I thought it was funny…”) After describing the incident, he readily admitted that he had completely misread the situation.
“My radar was off. I didn’t know that the other guy wasn’t really laughing at what was going on. I was like that bystander you talked about when you were talking about ‘The Prodigal Son.’” (I confess he may have been playing me, but I appreciated his effort anyway. Did he walk out of my office and tell a friend, “I used the ol’ Rembrandt defence. It worked like a charm!”)
These kinds of social scenes, when one student sees something going wrong but can’t quite find the courage to intervene, are not all that unusual during adolescents. (And often times beyond adolescence!)
Just a few days before the General Petraeus scandal blew up, I was fortunate enough to spend some time at West Point, because I had heard of their impressive leadership development program.
I learned a lot during my West Point visit, but one thing in particular has stayed with me. When I described the typical adolescent dilemma to one West Point soldier, he offered this suggestion: “All you need to do, when you know something needs to be done is this: You just step in and say, ‘That’s not who we are.’ That is all you need to say.”