Let’s Work Together to Make This The Year of The Upstander

As published on the Opinion page in today’s Houston Chronicle.

Read the full article online or download a PDF version.

By Sarah Fisher and Trish Morille

As we stand together gazing down the track from this new school year’s starting line, we ask ourselves: What do we expect from the class of 2013? Given recent harrowing revelations from Penn State University and the shocking treatment by middle schoolers of New York bus attendant Karen Huff Klein, a more compelling question is now in order: What do we expect of ourselves as parents, caregivers, educators, coaches and neighbors?

Before asking more of students this year, we must first demand more from ourselves. It is time for us, as a generation of adults, to pay our painful learnings forward with leadership, courage and action.

How and where do we begin? Simply expecting our children to speak up – whether they are being abused, bullied or watching it happen to someone else – is important, but not the entire answer. Before we can teach children to speak up in their world, we must first find the courage to speak up in our adult world. A community of upstanding children can only be raised by a community of adults who lead by example.

There is no shortage of opportunity for us to work on this together. Physical and verbal adult and student bullying, cyber aggression, underage drug and alcohol use, child abuse and neglect, domestic abuse, random acts of violence and hypercompetitiveness are all issues that keep us up at night. They are issues that demand zero tolerance for adult nonaction in our communities.

It is also clear we face a respect deficit in our society that must be addressed, starting now. Simply expecting children to be respectful and mannerly again puts the cart before the horse. Children will learn manners and respect when the adults in their lives are mannerly and respectful. Our nation’s children are a reflection of our nation’s adults – and an American culture that grows more aggressive and provocative by the day, because we allow it to do so.

Today and going forward, we challenge ourselves as mothers and call on our fellow parents and caregivers, as well as educators, coaches, medical professionals and government and business leaders, to find the courage to be upstanders – people who stand up to defend others who are being mistreated.

As we stand together at the starting line of this new school year hoping for success and pondering the hurdles ahead, let’s lock arms as neighbors, colleagues and friends and ask ourselves: Will this be another year of the bully? The target? The bystander?

Or, will this finally – finally – be the year of the upstander?

We can start today by gathering our family at the dinner table to reconnect and share not only our challenges but examples of upstanding behavior, kindness, consideration and respect. We can start by modeling the behavior we want to see in our children and by setting higher standards for ourselves as adults at home, at work, and on our children’s campuses. And when embroiled in life’s inevitable power struggles, we can encourage each other to choose peaceful yet assertive action that moves the community ball forward.

Imagine a school year where stories of courage and altruism overwhelm negative stories. Imagine a school year that delivers unprecedented news of breathtaking sportsmanship, unprecedented kindnesses, and unexpected leadership. Imagine a year when we celebrate the great strides each of us has made by working together, for the greater good, from home to home plate, from the homeroom to the boardroom.

Let’s envision this year together as the year of the upstander. Are you ready? Take your mark. Get set. Let’s go.

Fisher is co-founder and CEO of +Works (positive works); Morille is co-founder and executive vice president of +Works.