In this special bonus episode of The Forum Podcast, Dr. Daniel Cantor Yalowitz (DCY Consulting) and Tatyana Fertelmeyster (Connecting Differences, LLC) answer questions from listeners that attended our very popular April 2021 webinar From Bystander to Ally.
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- Is “active bystander” the same as “ally”?
- Where did you get your definitions of bystander and ally and other terms?
- Is someone still considered to be an ally if someone tells them about an incident and they are in a position to respond or do something – but don’t?
- What else could bystanders have done during the murder of George Floyd?
- What if you are naturally opposed to conflict and confrontation, but want to speak up or act? How does one “train” their brain to welcome conflict?
- At a critical moment some people find themselves struggling with a decision to step in or not. What would you say about a situation when what’s stopping us is not knowing if another person wants our help?
- What is key in trying to promote a culture or initiative of allyship in a
company or workplace?
For additional context and insight into this topic and conversation, watch the replay of From Bystander to Ally.
>> The Forum on Workplace Inclusions 2021 podcast series is sponsored by Best Buy. More diversity in tech means more ideas that can change the world. Learn more at bestbuy.com/moreofthis.
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>> Hello, and thank you for tuning in for today’s special podcast, From Bystander to Ally Continued, with Tatyana Fertelmeyster of Connecting Differences and Dr. Daniel Cantor Yalowitz of DCY Consulting. I’m Ben Rue, program associate here at the Forum on Workplace Inclusion. As the name suggests, this podcast is a continuation of our April webinar From Bystander to Ally. There were so many wonderful questions that we weren’t able to get to during that webinar. Tatyana and Daniel were gracious enough to come back so we can answer a few of those questions. So without further ado, let’s hop in. [Music] Thank you so much, Tatyana and Daniel, for agreeing to come back to do this follow-up podcast. We had so many great questions that we couldn’t get to, so we’re really excited to, you know, get to answer some more of those.
>> Thank you, Ben. It’s great that we have this opportunity to keep this conversation going. It’s definitely a very important topic, From Bystander to Ally.
>> Yeah. More and more each day. So let’s just jump right into it. So the very first question that was asked is: Is active bystander the same as ally?
>> So we don’t use those terms interchangeably. I mean, there is a difference. And it’s important, I think, to understand those differences between allyship and active bystanding. What I would think is that an active bystander is actually present in the situation. They’re a witness. They’re in the same situation that is going on. And an ally can be but doesn’t have to be. An ally is someone who is providing ongoing support and commitment. It can be within the situation, but it’s also beyond the situation. So one can have an ally who is not present during an incident or a situation, but they’re involved and they’re engaged and they’re supportive. An active bystander is more someone who is there and present at a given moment in time for the duration of the situation. So that’s one way that I’ve come to look at the two as being slightly different.
Tatyana, do you want to add anything to that?
>> Yeah. One thing that I want to say is that if I am an ally in my intention and if I’m an ally in my action, which means that I have a commitment to ongoingly focus on situations that need allyship, if I find myself in the situation that calls for me to become an active bystander — I walk by something, I am present for a conversation — the likelihood of me stepping forward and actually taking the more active position is higher if I am a true ally because I am kind of more prepared for it. If I see myself as an ally but instead it is more for performative allyship — I say the right things, but I don’t put any substance behind it — then it might be quite disappointing for somebody who expects me to step in on their behalf in the situation when I am really not doing it because I am not prepared for action. So it can be a moment of knowing am I or am I not a true ally.
>> One more piece, if I can add, is that an ally really is someone who sees a given situation as it occurs on a larger systemic level. They may or may not be involved directly at the moment, but they’re understanding the larger social or historical context out of which a particular scene or situation occurs. And they will take some form of action; although, it may not be in the moment. They may write an article. They may do something else that enables others to see that as an act of support to a person to whom a harmdoing is being done. And so they’re engaged also on a more ethical level of a situation, not only the pragmatic level.
>> Thanks for — go ahead.
>> And one thing to say about the active bystander. I might be an active bystander one time and one time only. I might be an active bystander on behalf of my friend but not in the situation in general. Yeah? So it really varies. There is this intersection of the moment where it’s kind of ongoing reality. Yeah? So how we need to look at what it is to be a bystander and what it is to be an ally. Okay.
>> Thanks for clarifying that. And where did you get your definitions of bystander and ally and other terms?
>> Well, we’ve been working with this for several years. In 2016 I worked with an organization called Quabbin Mediation, which is in West Central Massachusetts. And I worked with the executive director, Sharon Tracy, at building a national curriculum for K through 12. And after doing some exhaustive research — again, this is five years ago — we built a terminology, a glossary of terms, that we have been using in the five years since then. And in ongoing discussions Tatyana and I, in other work that we’ve done, have come to settle on an understanding of the terms based on their practicality. And so that’s where we stand.
>> Now, where did you get your definitions of bystander and ally and other terms?
>> Well, Tatyana and I have been working with the terminology that we’re currently using for several years now in our workshops and programs. For me it began in 2016 when I began as a consultant with the Quabbin Mediation program, which is in West Central Massachusetts, not far from my hometown. And I was hired on to help build a national curriculum for K through 12 in training active bystanders. So we worked hard then to look at the current research and what was being said and written and done around basic terms, such as active bystander and ally and others, and came up with the terminology to keep it simple, to keep it practical and pragmatic, and that’s the terminology that Tatyana and I have settled on in the years that we’ve been working with it.
>> I think it is always a very good question when we are talking about anything in diversity [inaudible] to where the terms are coming from, how do we define them. Because what might quite often happening is that people are using the same words but maybe put different meaning in them. So clarifying the definitions is something that we always, always do in our work.
>> Thank you. And you had mentioned, like, different situations and intersectionality in your first question. Is someone still considered to be an ally if someone tells them about an incident and they are in a position to respond or do something but they don’t?
>> My very simple question is no. Definitely there are all kinds of complicated circumstances that can be addressed. But the reality of being an ally is that if I am an ally and if I am on the position to make a difference in a situation and I am doing nothing, then definitely I am not an ally. What exactly it means to be on the position to do something needs to be maybe a little bit more uncovered. Yeah? Because if, let’s say, I am a manager and I become aware that something is going on in my team and I do nothing, it is one thing. If I am a peer and I do nothing it’s a little bit of a different thing because what I can do as a peer and what I can do as a manager is different. And also, what are the expectations of what it is that the person expects me to do? Yeah? Because sometimes if I am struggling, if I am in need of support and in need of somebody to be my ally, I might have my own ideas about what it is that I want to see happening that might not be possible. What I think is absolutely essential, that if somebody comes to me and they need me to be an ally, I need to do a really, really good listening. I need to have — to get a really good understanding of what’s going on. I need to help the person to take a breath and slow down a little bit so that we together can do a better analysis of what’s going on and come up with some strategy of what can be done so it’s not a knee-jerk reaction. But doing nothing, showing no interest, no support, no understanding, or just saying we’re here, I am with you, and still doing nothing, no, you cannot be an ally if you act like that.
>> I think the last piece that Tatyana mentioned, I’d like to talk about that for a moment. That’s the definition of a cheerleader, someone who’s on the sidelines cheering on and encouraging. But to move to being an ally, there’s two pieces to it in my mind. One is addressing the context of a situation. This is the larger philosophical, ethical, political situation. And people who write letters to the editor, who are involved in media and so on can impact a situation indirectly in that way and be an ally by focusing on context. Focusing on content is sometimes more direct. And getting involved in a situation through active allyship really means being engaged. Participating with someone as an active support and moving forward with them in time and space. So to me an ally can work both in content, context, and both. But working with neither, well, then we are talking about someone who’s more of a cheerleader, and it’s not the same.
>> Thank you. Sorry.
>> The other thing that I believe makes allyship different from bystanding and makes an ally to be such an important figure in a situation is that allies need to look not only at the moment of what happened and how can I support you in this moment, but what are the systemic parts of what’s happening? Did something that happened was just completely random? Just, you know, you had a bad interaction with the person or — and you need some support in it. Or is it a part of kind of a systematic what happens all the time that needs to be addressed? So that would be another layer of being an ally. And in this question when the person says somebody who’s on the position to do it, my thinking is that the person who asked this question also implies that somebody who’s on the position to see it on the system level, somebody who’s on the position to make changes in the system or advocate for changes in the system beyond just, you know, the one incident.
>> Yeah. And in that sense and, you know, thinking of systemic things that need to be changed or could be changed or — we got this question a lot and a lot of people have been asking this question is: What else could bystanders have done during the murder of George Floyd, if anything?
>> Well, first of all, we have to remember that those who were bystanders during this murder were actually acting in heroic ways. I mean, it may not sound heavily active, but even having a cell phone and taking the video is what has brought this whole situation to national and international attention. It’s brought it to trial. There’s actual evidence. And it’s not easy to stand up in the face of violence that’s as heinous as the George Floyd murder and calmly videotape a situation. And there was more than one person doing that. And there were others who were calling the police on the police and such. But I also want to talk about one of the major distinctions when you’re talking about serving as an ally or, more particularly, as an active bystander with police is that there are both written and unwritten rules in terms of how one can intervene. And to have done anything more would have put someone’s life and livelihood in jeopardy. No question. Certainly an arrest would have been easily made for interrupting a situation. There could have been violence perpetrated on someone else if they had stepped in more directly. And part of that is a term that I think of as being very, very powerful when situations are inherently unequal, and we call that power asymmetry. And that takes place when it’s very clear that one person or group has power over another. And in this case there’s police and there’s citizens. The police are armed, and citizens, for the most part, are not. And so there’s an unwritten power asymmetry that was built into the George Floyd murder, and that made a difference in terms of how citizens and bystanders could act and not act, at least in my opinion.
>> I will take it a little differently. As a mental health professional, I’ve done fair amount of grief counseling, and I see this situation as filled with grief. Because here are a bunch of people, absolutely random people, going about their business, whatever brought them to this particular point on Minneapolis street. And all of a sudden they are witnessing a person being murdered. Many of them identify with this person as somebody who looks like them, like their brother, their father, which makes it even more difficult to just be there. We need to think about these people also as survivals — survivors of a very deeply traumatizing situation. Yeah? As bystanders they’d done pretty much anything and everything that they could possibly think about. There was recording. There was calling out and making noise and, you know, bringing attention and calling police. And there was a woman there who was a firefighter off duty who was trying to offer her help. You know, so people were doing everything that they could possible do. And what they’re left with now is a really deep unresolved grief reaction that comes in the form of deep guilt and anger. Yeah? And this guilt goes against themselves. Why didn’t I do more? There was nothing more to do. But people will carry it around for a long time. Yeah? And then there is anger that needs to go somewhere. And I am talking about it right now not — you know, definitely about the specific situation that we are all aware of with George Floyd being murdered and trial that is about to end. We are kind of taping this conversation on the day where the jury is doing its deliberation. But in any situation when you find yourself as a bystander or you are an ally, and you find yourself pushing the wall that you cannot push, that you cannot change, it comes with the depths of emotional leftovers that need to be acknowledged and processed. Otherwise, people end up carrying trauma around. Those who experienced some injustice, and those who witnessed it and felt, you know, incapable of making a difference no matter what they tried. It is damaging for everybody. So in any organization where being an ally means that you are trying and trying and trying and nothing changes, or being an active bystander in the situation and feeling that nothing changes, that corrodes the organization, that corrodes the morale of the organization, not less than the fact of injustice or mistreatment of the person itself. So it just kind of doubles the negative effect of something happening.
>> Yeah, I like referring to them as survivors because I’m sure a lot of them do feel a lot of guilt and wish they could do more but you’re right. Daniel, you’re right; they are really heroes for what they did do and what they were able to do. And especially, you know, considering they were up against the police, and I’m sure a lot of them are opposed to conflict especially, you know, with the police. One of the questions asked, like, in regard, like, what if you are naturally opposed to conflict and confrontation but want to speak up or act? How does one train their brain to welcome conflict?
>> I think it is very important for us not to think in either-or. Either I go all the way or I do nothing. Yeah? Either it has to be a conflict, or there is nothing that I can do. Let me give you just maybe a couple of examples. Yeah? And let’s take situation that is much more common and much less dramatic than, you know, witnessing murder of George Floyd. Yeah? In the workplace every day all sorts of things happen. You know, microaggressions happen. One of very well known microaggressions is that, for example, women in meetings very, very often experience the situation that as a woman I say something in the meeting, nobody kind of pays attention to it, meeting keeps going, two minutes later Daniel, being a man, says something, and all of a sudden everybody heard it, and now we’re talking about the brilliant idea suggested by Daniel. If Daniel wants to be my ally in this situation, as he becomes aware that this happens he can say something like, Wait a minute. Why is it that in our company or in our team meetings women are always ignored? We need to do something about it. So he is kind of escalating it to this level. Possible. Can be done. Can be effective. On the other hand, let’s say Daniel is not much into confronting something like that, but he is becoming aware that I am kind of being ignored or other women are being ignored. And what he can say when he heard me say something and meeting kept rolling, he can simply say, Wait a minute. Tatyana, you just said something really interesting. Could you please kind of say it one more time? I want to make sure that I got exactly what you’re saying. Yeah? He’s acknowledging what happened. He is being very active bystander, and he’s being an ally. But he is not necessarily turning it into conflict or confrontation. Yeah? He is actively witnessing and not letting anybody else to pretend that nothing happened. Yeah? So those are very different ways, both actually allowing for the same thing to happen.
>> To add to Tatyana’s response, I would say another thing that is important is to reframe a situation. In other words, one doesn’t have to look at every situation as being directly confrontative or conflictual. Even in situations where harm is being done, there are other ways of thinking about what one is experiencing or seeing, and that has to do with our ability to reframe a situation. In other words, if someone is going on a rant or a rave and telling racist or sexist jokes — and this happens all the time everywhere — one can jump in and interrupt and do something that might feel confrontative much more directly, or another way of going about this would be to ask a question to the person who is offering the racist or sexist joke and saying, “How is this funny?” and trying to reengage that person in a different way. And that has to do with our ability to use our creativity to reframe a situation so that maybe we’re asking our brain to look at it differently, especially if we’re someone who is a conscientious objector or just is fearful, as most people are, of conflict or confrontation. We can find another way to think about what we’re experiencing. And in order to do that, we have to take that breath, step moment away from it to see it happening, and then reenter. I think reframing is a very helpful thing. It’s a very good skill to practice and can make a difference in entering into a situation as an ally or an active bystander.
>> What I really like about this question is that the person who is asking it is obviously in the place of awareness. Yeah? They see what’s happening. They are aware, which is a big step from somebody who is oblivious. Yeah? And being aware, the next step is to let the other person know I see what’s going on, I am aware of it. Sometimes even, like, let me come here and just stand next to you and give you a feeling that you were not taking it alone. Yeah? That you are not here by yourself. That it’s not happening unseemly for everybody around. That can make a big difference without even saying a word.
>> Agree. And at a critical moment some people find themselves struggling with the decision to step in or not. What would you say about a situation when what’s stopping us is not knowing if another person wants our help?
>> Well —
>> I think —
>> Go ahead.
>> Thank you. That question I would take maybe a little bit from the intercultural perspective. Yeah? We are in the culture — if we are talking about the United States, we are in the culture that kind of — that values individualism, that values self-reliance, things like that. Especially, I would say, in the white mainstream kind of culture. Because many other cultures within the United States diversity might operate in a more collective way. Yeah? In a more expectation that, you know, people kind of help each other. But the cultural norm that is driven by the white cultural norm is individualism and self-sufficiency and self-reliance. And for that reason I might be questioning myself. You know, I feel like you might need help, but if I offer you help, how will it be taken? Yeah? Because I’m sure everybody can share a story or two when they offered help and the person said, who made you think that I need help here? Who made you think that I am not capable of doing something by myself? So in that sense I think taking the risk of being told that I don’t need your help might be a better risk than risking not to help when the person really, really needs it. Yeah? And maybe just saying, you know, is there something I can help with? Yeah? Is there — other than just jumping and saying, here I am on my white horse.
>> And help is not — as Tatyana said, help is not an all or nothing situation. And, you know, from an intercultural perspective, one person’s thinking or application of help is another person’s thinking or perspective on aggression. And so that moment where we’re not sure is not an unhealthy situation. Sometimes it’s about self-protection. Sometimes it’s really about stopping out and looking at the larger context and trying to understand it rather than only acting impulsively. And so asking that question to oneself or, as Tatyana just suggested, asking it to the other person. Could you use a hand? Could you use some help? And relying and trusting that their judgment is what’s right for them in that moment rather than making an impetuous assumption that I’m going to go ahead and dive in regardless. These are healthy things to think about. And if you find yourself struggling with the decision to step in or not, that’s a valuable thing for self-awareness, for understanding our own personal triggers, and also the content that we’re presented with that’s right in front of us. So we don’t always know. We’re not always sure. There is this moment of ambiguity and ambivalence, and this is where continuing training and workshops and professional development and discussions with colleagues can really make a difference.
>> And also, when we are missing the moment — because sometimes we see the moment, and we are not sure if we need to be jumping in to help. And sometimes we kind of realize that something happened and maybe that needed our help, but the moment kind of has passed. It might be a good conversation to have, either with the person who you think might have needed your help. Say, you know, this is what I observe. What am I missing? You know, was there space for me to be of help? Yeah? Or if you are not comfortable talking to a person to whom it happened, talk to somebody else, you know, who might know and understand the situation and ask, what am I missing? Because one of the things about being an ally is nobody knows everything. Nobody sees everything. Nobody understands everything right when it happens. It is kind of an ongoing process of self-education. And sometimes our biggest learning happens when we make mistakes. When we are left with this discomfort of I didn’t know what to do, or I should have done something. You know, that — you know, use it as an opportunity to be better educated for the next time when you might actually be able to be an ally or able to step in as an active bystander. Because last time you didn’t, and you turned it into a learning opportunity for yourself.
>> One more piece I’d like to add is what I’m going to call my defense of the power of the question. And in the work that we’ve been doing and in the teaching that I’ve done over the past four or so decades, there is one three-word question that really stands out in terms of self-awareness, in terms of awareness of content and context, and also just our natural human curiosity. Three words, but you put them together and it can make a world of difference. And that question is: Is there more? Is there more? And in asking that question we can get beneath and beyond the headlines, sometimes the superficial things that are very easy to observe and judge. But get underneath them and really understand what’s happening to an individual or a group of people that we might not see or hear or experience. And by asking the question, we are taking a step in. We are making ourselves vulnerable by saying I don’t know. Tell me more. And we’re showing that we care and we want to do something by finding out as much information as we can and then being able to act more judiciously upon it rather than only impulsively. So I think the asking of questions here can help move us forward, can propel us to becoming effective and efficient active bystanders in a situation where we don’t know everything.
>> Something so simple yet so important, asking questions to, you know — you know, learning and making sure you get it right, or least do your best to get it right. Well, I’m so sorry to say, but this is our final question; however, I think it’s a great question to end on. Before I do ask the question, I want to thank you both so much for coming back and for, you know, having this great conversation. Yeah. So our final question is: What is key in trying to promote a culture or initiative of allyship in a company or workplace? This is the Forum on Workplace Inclusion podcast, after all.
>> In my perspective, a culture of allyship and initiative are two very different things. In some ways as Daniel and I were talking, you know, about this work that we’re doing, we realized that the more culture is conducive to allyship, the less allyship is needed. Yes, situations might happen when, you know, somebody says or does something that needs to be addressed. But when culture — which is defined as this is how we do things here — is about people being curious about each other, being aware about each other, being ready and prepared to stand up for each other, in this kind of culture the likelihood of something happening is much less. Then in the culture where people feel that it’s really scary to say something — yes, I see it, but I don’t know if I can address it. I’ll talk to you afterwards. Yes, you know, I feel for you, but I will not step in because of retaliation or whatever else might be going on. Having an ally ship initiative in this kind of culture will not make a difference quite honestly. Because initiative never addresses the systemic level. Yeah? So in a sense, if somebody wants to make sure that in their company they are really building this allyship muscle, they need to make sure that they are looking at what is it in our culture that makes allyship necessary, and how are we addressing that? In addition to training people how to be allies and how to keep themselves safe in, you know, a hot situation while still being able to help each other. So individual work and systemic work have to go hand in hand. And a lot of internal work. It is about what does make me ready and prepared to be an ally and deal with myself in this difficult moment.
>> To just build on that last thought, you know, oftentimes we think of initiatives and professional development seminars and inservice trainings and the vocabulary is very extensive, but those are all things coming at us from outside, from external sources, from the, quote, experts, whether they’re internal in the organization or not. And there’s a quieter side to it that Tatyana just alluded to, which is how can we begin to take matters into our own hands. How can we begin to learn about ourselves and our trigger points, our personal challenges and so on? And oftentimes that kind of self-knowing and self-awareness doesn’t — there’s no room for it in the workplace. Workplaces are busy. They’re about enhancing productivity or services and programs. They’re not necessarily about looking in. And we can take the time as individuals or small groups, both in the workplace but, more importantly, outside the workplace, to really build an internal personal culture of self-knowing and self-awareness that can really begin to break down the fear, the ignorance, the hesitation and so on by just truly getting to know ourselves.
>> And I think that also it’s important for all of us to recognize and deal with our own traumas and hardships. Because the fact that I’ve had some traumatic experiences might be a great opening for my soul to be able to connect with somebody else’s pain, or it might be something that we’ll just say, I’ve been through it, now it’s your turn. So it does take all kinds of, again, our own human work to be able to be there for each other and with real compassion and real willingness to support one another.
>> Workplaces are phenomenal learning laboratories for people. They’re opportunities to build relationships not only based on transactions but based on people. And oftentimes we find ourselves living and working in a very extroverted culture, and the piece that can get left out or left behind is the piece within ourselves. And there’s a double entendre there. Piece can be spelled as in a small part of ourselves, but also a sense of peace and calm and understanding and self-knowing that can lead to a feeling of grace within ourselves, inner self-confidence, greater self-confidence. And these are skills and processes that are integral to becoming an active bystander and an effective ally. And without them we find that we’re often just reacting to situations based on what’s dictated from outside and not from a sense of knowing ourselves. I think the combination of the two is really incredibly important.
>> Thank you again, Tatyana and Daniel, for coming back and giving us an opportunity to continue this very important conversation. And thank you to all our listeners for joining. If you’d like to learn more, feel free to e-mail Tatyana and Daniel at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. New episodes of the Forum podcast are now available on our website forumworkplaceinclusion.org/podcast. You can also found our podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, and Stitcher. Thank you again for listening. Have a great day.
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