the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By Alex Shao ’22
Image Credit: Tim Caynes
Recently, students experienced a boundaries training course, which talked about inappropriate deeds including being a bystander. After the course, I contemplated this topic and realized its relevance in the context of a movie I had recently watched. Titled “Judgement at Nuremberg,” this movie depicts a post-World War II trial of German judges. During the trial, the German defense attorney, Hans Rolfe, says the famous line: “Ernst Janning’s guilt is the world’s guilt — no more and no less.” He argues that one cannot simply decide someone’s guilt because it is always an “easy thing to condemn one man in the dock.” Instead, everyone involved in the condemned actions has to bear responsibility for the damage caused; however, the responsibility of the entire collective, in this case the Nazi party, is diffused among so many individuals that one cannot easily decide who is guilty based on their actions.
In my opinion, this also applies to our everyday life. Many of us do not consciously choose to participate in harmful deeds or hate speech, but we often ignore the damage done by remaining a silent bystander. When there is a large number of people, such as in a crowd, it becomes even harder for a single individual to stand up against the mob. Furthermore, individuals rarely want to take the chance that they may bring trouble upon themselves by going against the collective will or actions, and individuals in that situation are likely to feel like a single drop of water in an ocean, thus feeling they need not take responsibility if nobody else will.
Despite this, I believe that one has the responsibility when one participates or aids the injustice perpetrated by the collective. To define this responsibility, it is something everyone shares once they make the decision to join the group. For instance, a student joining a student group would reap its benefits, and therefore must also take part of the responsibility when a mistake is made by that group. Being a mere bystander does not mean that they can shun responsibility for others’ actions, because by failing to take any action against the ongoing injustice, the bystander becomes complicit and therefore collectively responsible. Witnessing and ignoring a deed suggests implicit agreement with it, which means that the bystander, too, becomes a guilty party for failing to either intervene or inform the relevant authorities. Ignorance about being part of the problem also does not indicate innocence on the part of the bystander, as it is always their decision whether they choose to deliberately ignore the impacts of their actions.
Although the consequences of inaction are rarely physical, their effects can be long lasting, as one may be morally and ethically condemned both by others and himself. I feel that, eventually, everyone has to compensate for what they have done, even if what they chose to do is not to do anything. Therefore, I believe it is important that if students witness unfair treatment, such as their peers being harassed, they should rise up against this and refuse to stay silent.
Often, students might feel pressured to side-step the issue, but always remember that as an inclusive and kind community, Westminster will always support what is morally right and will help with solving the problem. Maybe nobody has observed or highlighted such problems in our school, but it does not mean that these issues do not exist. I hope that everyone in the school community can continue to look out for each other. This is especially important at a time when internet usage has increased massively, and students can become party to cyberbullying without even being aware of it. Therefore, let us all be aware of what we are participating in and always stand up when we come across injustice, whether it is in the form of cyberbullying or other acts happening around us on campus. Don’t let societal pressure become personal pressure that stops you from doing the right thing.