Heroic Imagination Project

Dear Engaged Bystander: I have always questioned why good people can do horrible things and what motivates someone to go out of their way to help someone they don't even know. As I watch what pops up through various list-serves, etc. I am intrigued by the research that is not directly within the field of sexual violence.

I recently came across the Heroic Imagination Project. It is a project of Dr. Philip Zimbardo who you may know thought the Standford Prison Experiments. In their words:
The Heroic Imagination Project (HIP) inspires ordinary people to trigger extraordinary social change. HIP is based on the insight that all people have the capacity to act heroically, and that it's possible to prepare anyone to be a hero when called upon.

I hope that some of these stories, maybe some of yours, will be highlighted through this growing list of everyday heroes. We do need to talk more about how we can intervene and to celebrate these interventions whenever we see them.

I recently gave a workshop and used a new exercise. I asked each person in the workshop to turn to the person next to them and talk about an incident in the last week where they were an active bystander. When the buzz in the room began to fade, I asked the participants:

  • How did it feel to share these stories?
  • What did you learn?

One response still lingers with me. A woman traveling on the subway, heard a young man make a joke about rape and intervened (in her words, "I teach this every day, I had to say something..."). She said it felt really hard to talk about this story because she always wondered if she had done enough.

The group was able to give her lots of appreciation for what she did do and also pointed out all of the ripples her single act may have started. She let the young man know his words do matter. She modeled engagement to the other passengers on the subway. The young man's partner saw that it was possible to say something if she wanted to/needed to.

It seems so very important to tell these stories -- for ourselves to know that each act is enough, for others to see that they are not alone, and for our communities to set the norm for engagement.

I hope you will think about doing a small act of "bystander engagement". It is possible to find a time and place every day.