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Perspective: Upstanders And Bystanders

Wikimedia Commons, CC0 1.0
Room of Remembrance, Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

A few weeks ago, our staff took 115 8th graders to the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie as part of a unit on discrimination I’ve been teaching. As we started our tour, our docent posed a question to our group, whose answer has had profound consequences through the course of history. Her question was this: Would you be an upstander or bystander if you saw a person doing deliberate harm to another person? I could see the gears were turning in many kids’ heads as they continued through the exhibits. 


We talked about that concept the next day in class. Like most adults, many kids soon realized they would always do the right thing in a hypothetical situation, but that in a hard reality, their responses may be different.  


Since that discussion, I’ve pondered the question when it comes to being a citizen. I no longer remember where I first heard the statement, “We get the government we deserve,” but I have come to realize that a government at any moment is the result of its citizens being upstanders or bystanders. An upstander citizen would call out elected officials for lies, hypocrisy, character assassination, cowardice in avoiding hard choices for the common good, and pandering to base instincts versus sound reason for reelection purposes.  


Only then, would we all get the good, honest government that we deserve.  


I’m Andrew Nelson, and that's my perspective. 

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