I’m a romance novelist. I deal with love on a full-time basis and because of that I usually end up avoiding the news and certain people in my social media news feeds. Those parties aren’t usually conducive to writing about the beauty of family and community, of acceptance and respect and love…also hot steamy sex scenes.

As a romance novelist, I’m the last person who would be an expert on the tragedies we’ve been facing or to give advice on how we need to change the infrastructure of society to stop these events from recurring. I can’t even put a timeline on when things “got bad,” because I’m pretty sure we can trace all this crap back thousands of years. Possibly even millions if that asteroid hit the earth on purpose.

What I can do is tell you what this mushy-hearted human being, who still trusts in happily ever after, believes to be true about the current state of “us.”

I believe we have a problem, but I believe we can improve the outcomes in situations by changing our own behavior. We aren’t the ones posting hate-fueled tirades on social media. We aren’t the committers of crimes against humanity.

We are in the middle and we are the majority. This is my love letter to you—and me—the beautiful bystander.

The problem doesn’t lie within the police or the government. And the problem sure as hell doesn’t lie in what color skin you were born with.

The problem lies within the guy on my Facebook page who goes on anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-woman, anti-government, anti-police, anti-refugee children, anti-freaking cute kitten video rants. “Oh, yeah. It’s real cute until it murders that toddler with the rabies. Those parents should be in jail for getting the kid a pet.”

The problem lies within the person who, regardless of the job they hold—teacher, nurse, cop, retail sales associate, full-time internet commenter living in their parents’ basement “I said no crusts, Mom!”—uses their prejudices and fear to make the lives of others worse. They use the valuable seconds of their own life to devalue those of others.

The problem is when I don’t recognize you as me. When I ignore your desire to be seen and heard and loved and respected as an equal to me. When your need and human right for security and stability aren’t as important because you weren’t lucky enough to be born here or your skin is a different color or your god goes by a different name or your eye color is wrong or your feet are too big. The problem is when I choose to be anti-you and pro-someone else.

We’re doing this life wrong. For those of us lucky enough to be born in America, who don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from, or whether or not our loved ones will make it home in one piece today, we’re doing this wrong. We pick fights and point fingers and choose sides.

We talk about walls and us vs. them. We talk about protecting what we have from others we don’t think deserve it. Everyone’s looking for a team, a side. And as Trevor Noah from The Daily Show points out, just because you’re pro-something doesn’t mean you have to be anti-something else.

“…in reality, you can be pro-cop and pro-black, which is what we should all be! That is what we should be aiming for.” — Trevor Noah, The Daily Show

Every tragedy becomes the Super Bowl of opinion. We’re very eager to place blame and point fingers, establish “good guys” and “bad guys,” but there aren’t many people who want to talk about solutions.

The problem lies with me, the bystander, who doesn’t shut down the racist joke. Who doesn’t speak up when I know someone is doing something very wrong. And we the bystanders are the solution. When the people who stand between the offender and the victim speak up and demand change, that is the sustainable solution.

When you see something, say something.

Be the squeaky wheel of justice, of equality, of love. Speak up. It may not be the most comfortable thing we’ve done all day, but it’s going to be better than going home and thinking about all the things we should have said. (Note: I spend most of my showers constructing perfect comebacks whose time has long since passed.)

Squeak respectfully.

When speaking up, do it in a way that you’d use when speaking to your grandmother or your son or your friend’s five-year-old. If ever in doubt, ask yourself, would I want someone talking to my child like this? If the answer is no, revise that response until it’s something you can be proud of. Until it’s something that builds a bridge, rather than burns it.

Progress is made when we come out from behind the safety of our digital walls and say “I hear you, I understand what you’re saying, and I disagree” rather than “Why don’t you go kill yourself?”

It was never meant to be me against you. It’s always been us for us. And there’s no geographical, racial, ethnic, gender identification, or sexual orientation boundary around us. You and I share a heart. I stand for you. I stand for us. Here’s what we can do to make it a little better.

A Romance Novelist’s Advice on How to Stand for Us

  1. Unfollow individuals or organizations that promote inciting hate and fear. Your day will automatically get better when you’re not bombarded by loud assholes with shitty opinions.
  2. Don’t laugh at the racist, biased, prejudiced, misogynistic, dickish joke. We’ve all faced the “Wow, that really wasn’t funny” face when telling a joke. I got that a lot with my knock knock jokes as a five-year-old. Here’s the perfect reason to use it.
  3. Ask them, “Do you really believe that all INSERT GROUP IDENTIFIER here are that way?” Then listen. Some folks are lost causes and listening will let you know which ones they are. Don’t engage lost causes, it’s a waste of your energy that can be better used doing beautiful things like eating cookies, hugging kids and dogs, cleaning out your gutters, etc.
  4. Shut down the finger pointing. Whether it’s a gorilla, an alligator, or a violent situation, until your family has gone through it you can’t say, “You suck because that would never happen to me.” In fact, please for the love of all that is cute and furry, don’t say those words. It’s like a jinx and I don’t want you to have to face a situation like that just so you can see what it’s like being on the receiving end. If you’re dealing with a loud finger pointer, respectfully disagree and walk away. Heated attention feeds the beast and sometimes it’s best to let it starve…alone…in its musty cave of fear and hate that smells like old sweat socks and hardboiled eggs.
  5. If you see something, say something. As a bystander, this is the single most important thing we can do to protect life. School shootings have been thwarted by vigilant individuals who spoke up when they knew something wasn’t right. Domestic terrorist attacks have been avoided when neighbors and family and acquaintances spoke up and identified questionable behavior. This can work in so many other situations, office HR problems, family dinners, grocery store express lane squabbles. I don’t want any of us to carry the guilt of having noticed something questionable and not saying anything until it was too late.
  6. Instead of devaluing the seconds of someone’s day, be awesome instead. Add value. Buy the coffee for the person behind you in the drive-thru. Look that homeless person in the eyes and say “Good morning.” Give Gladys in accounting a hug—but only if she wants one. Post something positive and beautiful on social media today. Compliment someone, even a stranger. Subscribe to the Good News Network’s Newsletter and share the crap out of those stories. Take your kid to the park and laugh until you can’t breathe.

This life is so beautiful and so short and I want us to remember it every moment of every precious day, because when that’s where our awareness starts everything gets better. Be better. Stand for us. I believe in you. I believe in us.

1 reply
  1. Jeannie Autry
    Jeannie Autry says:

    Very thoughtfully written and I paid attention and agree as a bystander to start paying attention to the points you made here. Not too much I could add except to say thank you for sharing and “ditto”!

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