How to avoid being on the wrong side of justice
Harm prevention for yourself and others in a conflict
You’ve just been told about a conflict occurring between two people by either one of the disputing parties or secondhand by a supporter of the person in dispute.
You’re now in a situation that didn’t exist in your life a few minutes earlier. You have a number of thoughts running through your head and emotions in your body. You might be wondering now “What am I supposed to do about this?”
If you identified the red flags of becoming an Accuser’s Flying Monkey, also known as the Bully’s ally in this situation, it’s time to do a SITUATION APPRAISAL to determine your role and course of action. Most importantly, you would like to discover if you are going to have a constructive or destructive influence on the conflict and any of the parties involved.
Your options of roles to play are:
The role you play will be determined by the accuracy of your situation appraisal and what justice looks like to you as a result of your level of involvement.
4 Steps of a Situation Appraisal
Exploration: using inquiry and curiosity to consider if it’s appropriate for the conversation to continue. If you already have an established bond with the Accuser or the other party, consider gathering information about the conflict, rather than on the disputing parties.
Shared understanding: you arrive at a point in your exploration where you have clarity about the conflict and the level of involvement required. This includes the role this person wants you to play and the role you believe you should play.
Goals: you are clear about your priority in this matter (ie. constructive or non- involvement) and the outcome of this situation for you.
Strategy and action plan: you develop a strategy based on a set of predictions and forecasting consequences to inform your next step.
As this is a harm prevention piece, I propose a set of questions to avoid becoming a Flying Monkey.
Questions to ask yourself to PREVENT becoming a Flying Monkey:
Is this information coming to me first hand by the person currently in a conflict? If so, what role do they want me to play and why?
Is this information coming to me second/third hand about someone else’s conflict? If so, why are they telling me and what’s in it for them?
Does this conflict between these two people have anything to do with me or am I at risk of become entangled in someone else’s drama?
Am I being seen as an advantageous target because of my profession, social status, financial status or proximity to the Accused?
Would I be helping these two people resolve the conflict in a way that I will be able to provide evidence of my effectiveness or is spreading this information to others to ‘provide support’ or ‘help’ or ‘restore justice’ a way to amplify or exacerbate the conflict?
What evidence do I already have and can gather about either party that can add to the story of this conflict and inform my role in it?
Is getting involved enabling me to liberate myself from my own suffering and past betrayal wounds or am I getting involved as a way to ineffectively heal these wounds through vicarious justice?
Will participating in someone else’s conflict bring me closer to my goal of freedom or will this get me enmeshed, leaving me to do more healing work to extract myself from this?
Am I doing this for the good of these two people who should actually be talking this out with each other or am I at risk of causing harm to another person because I’m reacting to this information rather than considering it from a balanced, well thought out and risk managed mindset?
What’s in it for me? What will I be gaining from showing allegiance to this person in a conflict that’s not mine?
How do I play the Caring Support role if I’m friendly, friends or already connected to the Accuser or Accused?
Validate their experience. You don’t need to agree with them or how they’re handling the conflict to believe the experience they’re having of the conflict. Avoid throwing up your hands with “I don’t want to get involved!” as your initial response.
Ask about their existing support system. If they already have a support system, then you might wonder why they’re reaching out to you especially if you barely know each other. If you’re close to them already, then you might ask what supporting them looks like and you can negotiate how you might show them support that doesn’t compromise your own morals or gets you entangled. If you’re closer with the Accused, suggest that the Accuser processes their issues about the conflict with another party that isn’t connected to the Accused to avoid tarnishing their reputation.
Offer to check in. You don’t need to agree with their approach to conflict resolution or justice to be there for them. You can let them know your level of availability (boundaries) and what’s on/off limits for discussion. You wouldn’t need to offer this option to a second hand Accuser, as they’re likely a Flying Monkey.
Suggest they are alert to unintended consequences. The more people who know about the conflict, the greater the potential for this private matter between two people to morph into smear campaigns and division within the public domain.
Keep it to yourself. As tempting as it is to share this conflict with trusted others, you risk participating in the spread of gossip when you do. Promise yourself to keep it inside and if you need to process it, do it in a therapeutic setting or journal about it without ever making it public.
How do I play the Neutral Party role if I’m aware this conflict has nothing to do with me?
This is where it can get tricky. If you don’t care what they think or do, then you might assert here that this conflict isn’t yours, question why a Flying Monkey is so involved or suggest that the parties consider working with a third party to mediate a resolution.
If you do declare allegiance to the Accused, the risk is that you will quickly be deemed untrustworthy and seen as a threat to the Accuser, potentially making you a secondary target to the Flying Monkeys. Here are some suggestions for playing the Neutral Party role:
Listen and be curious. You might agree that the situation sounds terrible and you can feel sorry that it’s happening to the Accuser.
Acknowledgement. You might want to acknowledge that they’re facing a challenging situation and wish them well working with their current support system. You might throw in a thank you for letting you know about the conflict they’re in.
Boundaries. If they ask you to warn others about the Accused, you might assure them that you’ll be looking into it and considering you’re involvement in this situation. You don’t need to elaborate.
What happens if you’re the Accused named by the Accuser? You might be tempted to do all the things that have been described earlier to gain sympathy and build a supportive community. Once you start sharing your situation with more people, you increase your risk of broken telephone and other fires erupting. Mostly, you risk doing to the other person what they’re doing to you by creating your own army of Flying Monkeys.
How to prevent others from becoming YOUR Flying Monkeys:
This is about doing the opposite of what the Accuser is doing to recruit Flying Monkeys.
Ask your Caring Supports NOT to defend you or try to protect your honour when an Accuser comes to them. Remind them that the moment they get emotionally involved in your story, their ability to remain curious and objective is compromised, and increases their risk of becoming a target. Show them the Caring Support guide above for you and suggest the option of Neutral Party role to the Accuser.
Encourage anyone you tell to do their research about you and the other party (if they know who the Accuser is) and get the facts to satisfy any doubt. They need to access their own truth about the situation.
Remind your supports that the issue is between yourself and the other person. You’re informing the support because they’re indirectly involved and might be asked to get involved.
Remind your supports to avoid making themselves an enemy to the Accuser or their Flying Monkeys in the supports’ desire to show loyalty to you.
Encourage your supports to remain curious and open to what the Accuser is sharing with them about their understanding of the situation and how it arose.
Avoid judging the Accuser or their Flying Monkeys or condemning them. When an Accuser and their proxies are using righteous outrage and vengeance as tactics to seek justice, they are already harming themselves. Employing the same weapons and tactics as the Accuser can cause harm to yourself. It’s not worth it.
Ultimately, conflicts need to remain between the disputing parties. In other words, it’s private affair and people’s livelihoods come under threat when others get involved due their own need to see justice served. Appropriate third parties include professional mediators, legal representation and law enforcement depending on the severity and intensity of the conflict and assault on the Accused.
It’s helpful to remember what happened to the Flying Monkeys when the Wicked Witch disintegrated with a diminishing shrieking cry. They were relieved, happy and overjoyed for Dorothy and her entourage. The spell had been broken because their Master was neutralized.
You can’t liberate from your suffering by doing unto others, unintentionally or not, what has been done unto yourself that has wounded you. So when you’re presented with one of life’s little tests, remind yourself that you want freedom and agency, not enslavement to someone else’s sinister and narcissistic agenda1.
It’s ok to think: Not my circus - not my monkeys, even if they fly.
Thank you for reading, your self-awareness and desire to do no harm,
Nathalie Martinek, PhD
The Narcissism Hacker