Taking Off the Training Wheels: How to go from bystander to upstander

by Jul 14, 2022

Written by: Sabrina Singh


What is courage?

Many would say it’s strength…perhaps even fearlessness. But the true definition contains a few key components. Courage is taking action despite the presence of fear

Imagine a young boy learning how to ride a bike. He’s only ever ridden one with training wheels. It is safe, and relatively easy. There is little chance that he will crash or fall over, so he freely and happily rides the safe, training-wheels-reinforced bike.

Then, one day, his mom takes the training wheels off. What is the boy feeling when he sees the bike?

Probably a little confused – there’s been a change. Probably a little upset – this wasn’t a change he asked for. And most importantly, probably a little scared to get on the bike and ride it. His safety net is gone, and there is suddenly a presence of fear.

After a bit of encouragement, he decides to attempt this new challenge. He reluctantly hops on the bike, while his mom keeps it steady. Then, she lets go and he starts to peddle.

Naturally, he gets scared and stops pedaling. He falls over. His mom explains how he must keep pedaling to stay balanced, and encourages him to try again.

This time, he keeps pedaling. He overcomes his fear and keeps going. But when it comes time to get off the bike, he doesn’t know how to stop, gets scared, and falls over. His mom explains how to use the brakes, and encourages him to try again.

This time, the boy pedals a little faster, rides a little longer, and successfully brakes and hops off the bike. What is the boy feeling now?

Probably a little relieved – the danger presented did not result in harm. Probably proud – he did something courageous. And most importantly, probably less scared to get back on the bike next time.


What can we learn from this story?

  1. For courage to be present, fear must also be.
  2. Overcoming that initial fear is the biggest step.
  3. The more willing we are to take action against that fear, the more we will learn along the way, and the less scary that fear will become.

So let’s put this in the context of workplace bullying. If you witness bullying behavior, it becomes your duty to step in and stand up for the target. It’s probably not a duty you expected; it’s certainly not one you wanted; and it’s associated with fear. What if there’s social backlash? What if I become the new target?

But just like the boy didn’t expect to lose his training wheels, we sometimes are faced with situations we didn’t ask for. And just like he overcame his fear, got on the bike, and started riding…we must be courageous and intervene. 

Now let me be clear – intervention looks different for every person, and for each unique situation. Whether it’s direct intervention, seeking out help, or simply making your presence known…the important part is that some form of action is taken.


And here’s the good news! 

The first time we face this uncomfortable situation is likely one of the hardest. Each time we practice intervening, it feels a little less scary. This is because the more you do something, the more you learn, and the less “foreign” it feels.

Additionally, there are resources available to help! Catherine’s newest LinkedIn course, “From Bystander to Upstander,” contains valuable insights into the whys and hows of intervention. We have made the course free for the next 24 hours.

At the end of the day, we must realize that silence and inaction…are acceptance. It’s our duty to find the courage to take off those training wheels and learn how to ride our intervention bikes.

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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