35 Quotes For Why You Shouldn’t Be Passive About Harassment Even If You’re Not Doing It

If you ever witness someone being bullied, harassed, or abused, you should always step up and say something, even if it doesn’t directly affect you. Bullies often don’t pick fair fights (that’s not what they’re looking for). They target people who they know probably can’t (or won’t) defend themselves.

It’s also important to note that bullying isn’t only physical, that just tends to be the easiest kind to spot.

While young boys may be more likely to get into physical fights with each other, young girls may be more likely to engage in emotional and/or psychological bullying (where physical contact never occurs but the harassment is no less violent or vicious). Some parents may also engage in any of these with their own children (very sad). People are often less equipped to deal with emotional abuse than physical.

It all matters and it’s all wrong.

Some people think that they should stay out of it, because the bullying victim needs to learn to defend their self. While yes, people do need to learn to stand up for themselves, there’s no good reason why any individual in general society should feel they have any right to decide who should learn that lesson, let alone how or when.

Staying out of it only helps the bully. Not doing something negative is not the same thing as doing something positive.

It may very well take courage (maybe you’re afraid of the bully yourself), but in that case, you already know you’re not alone, and standing up in that moment can make you and others stronger. After all, bullying works through fear of harm, but if we band together we don’t have to be as afraid.

The bully may claim they are doing their victim a favor, but this is completely unacceptable. It’s not their place.

It brings to mind the idea of a parent who attempts to teach their child to swim by throwing them into a lake without a life jacket, water wings, or any swimming lessons whatsoever. The thought is that survival instinct will kick in, and the child with “figure it out.” But this is incredibly cruel!

Just because it might achieve the desired result does not mean it’s a good or even appropriate way to go about it. The trauma alone would not be worth whatever lesson they might happen to learn. Maybe this is how the parent was taught, but that doesn’t make it okay.

Rather than rely on victims of bullying to miraculously learn to stand up to bullies, we should instead stand up to the bullies directly and let them know that their behavior is unacceptable because bullying shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Of course we must also be aware that many bullies have their own pain and fear inside which might be what is driving them to bully someone else, so we have to try and remember to be empathetic as much as is reasonably possible (in other words, don’t meet aggression with more aggression, or bully the bully). Let the bully know it’s not OK and needs to stop, period. Ask what’s wrong, why do they feel this is the way to solve whatever issue they have? Maybe no one has listened to them before.

Remember, just because someone is hurting doesn’t mean it’s OK to hurt others to make themselves feel better. We’re all in this together.

So if you see something, say something. Here are 32 quotes from very wise people that agree:

  1. The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing. (Albert Einstein)
  2. All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent (Thomas Jefferson)
  3. Softest on the people who need discipline, hardest on people who need compassion (Unknown)
  4. He who does not oppose evil, commands it to be done (Leonardo Da Vinci)
  5. What you allow, you encourage (Carrie Heinze-Musgrove)
  6. Your silence is consent (Plato)
  7. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. (Desmond Tutu)
  8. Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor (Ginette Sagan)
  9. Every social injustice is not only cruel, but it is economic waste (William Feather)
  10. Standing up to bullies is the hallmark of a civilized society (Robert Reich)
  11. One does not have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and absence of understanding are sufficient (Charles M. Blow)
  12. I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever humans endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented (Elie Wiesel)
  13. There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest it (Elie Wiesel)
  14. You think that your silence on certain topics, perhaps in the face of injustice, or unkindness, or mean-spiritedness, causes others to reserve judgement of you. Far otherwise; your silence utters very loud: you have no oracle to speak, no wisdom to offer, and your fellow people have learned that you cannot help them. Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice? We would be well to do likewise (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
  15. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (Martin Luther King Jr)
  16. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere (Martin Luther King Jr)
  17. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends (Martin Luther King Jr)
  18. There are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice (Ayaan Hirsi Ali)
  19. I chose to defend human rights because I cannot maintain my silence in the face of injustice (Chen Guangcheng)
  20. The more you answer the injustice of others, the more you heal your own soul (Julia Post)
  21. If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it (Zora Neale Hurston)
  22. I have come to believe that the one thing people cannot bear is a sense of injustice. Poverty, cold, even hunger, are more bearable than injustice (Milicent Fenwick)
  23. The glaring injustice is there for all who are not blinded by prejudice, to see (Bram Fischer)
  24. Real love cannot be silent in the face of injustice (Mel White)
  25. I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody (Lily Tomlin)
  26. Do not tolerate brilliant jerks, the cost to teamwork is too high (Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO)
  27. It takes a village to raise a child, and it also takes a village to allow the abuse of one (Unknown)
  28. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, and one for helping others (Audrey Hepburn)
  29. The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings (Albert Schweitzer)
  30. What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgment and control (Heather Plett)
  31. Remember: Oppression thrives off isolation. Connection is the only thing that can save you. Remember: Oppression thrives on superficiality. Honesty about your struggles is the key to your liberation. Remember: Your story can help save someone’s life. Your silence contributes to someone else’s struggle. Speak so we can all be free. Love so we all can be liberated. The moment is now. We need you. (Yolo Akili)
  32. It is precisely because of my love for humanity that I get enraged at systems that prevent people from flourishing and being free. It’s frustrating to see my righteous anger at unjust systems misinterpreted as hatred for individuals, but it’s more frustrating to see the oppressed suffer while those maladjusted to injustice remain silent. I won’t be silent. Silence is violence. (Nyle Fort)
  33. First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out for I was not a socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out for I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out for I was not a not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me. (Martin Niemöller)
  34. Whether you give a man a fish or teach him how to fish, your job hasn’t changed. Your job is fish. It is not to make value judgments about whether the person is deserving of fish. It is not to criticize the person for not knowing how to fish already. And it is certainly not your job to stand around and debate the relative efficacy of fish charity vs. fish education while the person in front of you goes hungry. This person is your fellow human. Your job is fish (Unknown)
  35. Have you ever wondered what you would do during the civil rights movement? Stop wondering. It is the civil rights movement. What are you doing? (Chris Savage)

Update: Feb 5, 2017, one more:

Certainly, I think there is a lot to be gained from people gathering together to show solidarity. But in a world where the institutions that we’re protesting in front of are losing their legitimacy and their power, I’m not sure that this has the impact that it once did. If we think of evil as this one person, this one big event, then we tend to want to match that with one big display of resistance. But actually, if evil is banal — a set of ordinary, mundane decisions day by day — then maybe we have to start living differently day by day. (Pollock)


Adam Emanon is a curator, writer, and general thinker-about-all-the-things. You can find more of their writing and other work at www.adamemanon.com. Find more quotes in Adam’s curated ebook.