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Response to "When to speak up"

Posted by Robin Abrahams  April 15, 2011 04:02 PM

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Monday, I ran a follow-up question about butting in, this time in situations where a person is being bullied, or some vague malfeasance is going on. Most commenters said that they would put their own safety first in such a situation, and I agree. I'd recommend either self-defense training or at least reading Gavin de Becker's Gift of Fear in order to make "safety first" something that really has some teeth. 

Green-Mountain-Views had an interesting observation: 

I've suggested to unsupervised children in public to stop throwing ice chunks at each other or skateboarding in the middle of the street by reminding them that they could either get hurt or hurt someone else. For the most part they've been responsive and quite a few seemed grateful to be not be invisible. 

Hmmm. I got the same reaction a few times from students I'd taught writing to. Yes, I was hypercritical, but no one had ever paid such keen attention to their words before, and it meant something to them. Speaking of children and their self-image, AntoniaB wrote: 

I've read testimonies from several people who were abused and railed on as children that the thing which helped them most was when an adult said to them 'you didn't do anything bad'. It helped them realize that the issue was with the parent and helped them keep a perspective through it all. 

Good point. We always want to chastise the bully, but sometimes comforting the afflicted can do more good. fastenyourseatbelts wrote a virtual thesis of good advice: 

My Rules of Good Samaritan Budinski Conduct: 
 ALWAYS speak up and intervene when the immediate safety or well being of a child, elderly person, physically or mentally challenged person or pet is involved. 
Always speak up and intervene if you witness a child, elderly person, disabled person, mentally challenged person or a pet being verbally abused. 
If the abuser is combative, call the police. If the victim is being physically abused, stay out of it and call the police immediately. 
 Call the police immediately for any domestic violence situations that have gone beyond the loud lovers' quarrel. Do not intervene. 
Stay out of ANY adult scary arguments or fights and call the police immediately. 
 If a child reaches out to you about any sort of abuse at home, get all the information you can and call the police immediately. 
Living in big cities and small towns, these rules have always served me and the community well. Very nice! 

And some of you, also, complained about the vagueness of the question. I agree, but I can only run the questions I get, and I haven't gotten that many lately. I was getting tons in the winter, but with the nicer weather, they're dryng up a bit. Write me!
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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