Why Most Men Won’t Keep Their #IWill Pledge — and How to Change That

Most of the men I know had one reaction to the powerful #MeToo campaign:

I want to help.

In fact, many men publicly pledged to do so, standing up and saying #IWill be the one you can turn to. #IWill be the one who believes you. And #IWill be the one who doesn’t tolerate bad behavior from other men toward women.

I believe that every one of these pledges has the right intentions behind it. Good intentions. But, as we all know: good intentions are rarely enough.

But there’s a way to change that.

What makes some men do the right thing?

From years of researching and teaching on the topic of heroism, both as a professor and with the Hero Round Table, I know a lot about bystander behavior. And one of the most important things I’ve learned is that no one imagines themselves as a bystander.

Instead, we look at tragedy and say, “I know I’d help” or “I’ll be the person you can turn to.” Yet helpers remain rare. This is for a simple reason: because standing up against injustice is actually hard to do in the moment. You can think about it today and you can commit to doing the difficult thing, but that’s very different from actually doing it in the moment.

When the moment comes—when the boss makes inappropriate remarks about a female colleague—you have to make a snap decision. And people usually don’t have the clarity in that moment to know they’re making one of those big, important, difficult decisions. It happens too fast. You either help or you don’t; you either say something or you stay quiet.

When I study heroes I see the opposite. Ask them about this moment, and a hero typically says something like, “I didn’t even think about it; I just did it.” It felt like instinct or muscle memory because the hero was training for that moment for a long time.

And the interesting thing about that—the empowering thing, for men and women and people of any gender—is that you can train too.

In fact, it’s not even hard.

The 2 Secrets of Keeping Your #IWill Pledge

Here are two things you can do, starting today, that will help you be the kind of person you want to be—an ally for women (and everyone around you):

1. Make yourself uncomfortable

To be someone who stands up to sexual harassment and abuse, you need to practice standing out… because that’s exactly what you’ll be doing when the situation arises. It’s hard to tell someone that what they’ve just said or done is inappropriate and needs to stop. It’s hard to intervene, especially if you’re dealing with a superior, a friend, or a family member. And it’s even harder to do it all in front of a group.

So practice calling attention to yourself. It’s uncomfortable to be the person who sticks out in a crowd, who isn’t going with the flow, so start dealing with that awkward feeling now. Start fighting the pressure to conform long before the moment comes.

Of course, the things that make somebody feel uncomfortable are different for every person. But a few ways you can practice standing out are:

  • Wear something that stands out, like bright pink pants
  • Sing out loud while you’re walking down the street
  • Be completely honest when you’re asked for your opinion
  • Look someone in the eye during an entire conversation

Whatever it is, pick something small and safe—that makes you feel awkward in public. Then practice doing it anyway, until you become more and more comfortable.

2. Do small good things

What are small good things? They’re any little opportunity to help people in some way.

Because even small, cost-free helping gets you in the habit and primes you for more costly action that #YouWill need to perform.

There are lots of ways to do this:

  • Hold doors for people
  • Hold elevator doors, especially if it means delaying yourself
  • Take someone’s shopping cart for them when they’re done with it and return it
  • Ask people if they need anything when you get up to get something for yourself
  • If you want to go big, volunteer some of your time once a week for a cause that matters to you

There’s one catch here: you have to notice these opportunities in order to take them. That might mean spending less time with earbuds in or looking at your phone. The more you pay attention to what’s happening around you, the more you’ll see all the times when people could benefit from some extra help—preferably before they ask for it.

Being the Kind of Person You Want to Be

There are other ways to train, too, and once you start thinking this way—about practicing to be the person you want to be—I’m sure they’ll start coming to you. (Comment below and share your ideas.) But one truth stands out: if #IWill is going to make a difference, it will be because more people learned how to take small risks for others.

And when you do that, you’ll be more than just a good guy. You’ll be the one who stands up, speaks out, and becomes available as an ally for others.

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