Line Up With Lady Gaga

10/03/2011 11:50 am ET | Updated Dec 02, 2011
  • John M. Eger Van Deerlin Endowed Chair of Communications and Public Policy at San Diego State University (SDSU)

Not long after 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer took his life because of bullying Lady Gaga said: "Bullying must become illegal. It is a hate crime." Last week's report of the death of an 11-year-old boy with muscular dystrophy -- months after his assault by a bully -- served to accentuate the bullying concern.

Statistics for 2010 reveal "about one in seven students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade is either a bully or has been a victim of bullying." And the trend is upward each year.

How can we stop the bullying? How do you make someone tolerant? What can our schools, our communities, our politicians do?

Clearly parents have a responsibility but our educational systems can tackle this issue too. Indeed, many people think the schools are best suited to take on the challenge. Certainly the Southern Poverty Law Center thinks so and even launched a magazine called Teaching Tolerance aimed at the schools.

The magazine "takes an in-depth look at how educators can use social media to teach social justice. It also explores the human side of the complex immigration debate and suggests ways for educators to defuse the issue in class discussions."

In her opening letter to readers, editor Maureen Costello says the spring issue is about "getting past labels." Citing Atticus Finch she says, "the stories here urge us and our students 'to consider things from another person's point of view... climb into his skin and walk around in it.'"

Lesson plans and teaching kits and resource links are all available for the asking. Schools across the nation can benefit from this resource so badly needed in what seems an age of unusual bullying. It offers schools a fairly comprehensive plan.But the entire community should see this as their problem too.

Indeed, a community that doesn't get on board, and that ignores the net effect bullying has on their future is one that is ignored at their peril. Why?

It's simple really. Places supportive of gays and lesbians have gained curiosity and currency, and do in fact appear to be among the winners. "Tolerance" broadly defined includes differences in race, creed, color, class, and gender and extends to accepting all kinds of people as long as they have good ideas.

More to the point.

Bullying does not stop when kids grow up. This is a real workplace issue as companies compete for talent worldwide. Yet studies about adult behavior in corporate America reveal that time is lost, productivity and employee health and well-being are sacrificed in such hostile environments.

Loraleigh Keashly, Ph.D., who has made it her life's research has reported: "The targets of workplace bullying are often overachievers." Corporations -- communities -- cannot afford this kind of environment.

The best companies and the best cities and regions must know how important it is to be tolerant or risk attracting, and retaining the most entrepreneurial, creative and innovative work force imaginable.

It is really time for a comprehensive strategy to deal with bullying in the school, but also in the workplace, and in the community. It is also time to make such behavior actionable as a hate crime.