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The Bully Movement: An Interview With Lee Hirsch

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We often excuse the most atrocious behavior as "human nature," and dismiss any possibility for things being different. Nine out of ten Americans believe there will always be war because that is how we are hard wired. That a part of our animal instinct is to dominate and destroy others because we share the same Darwinian principle of "survival of the fittest." The desire for a more peaceful society is often distorted by the acceptance that our brutality is not only caused by social conditioning, but also our DNA. History has countless examples how horrific we can be towards one another, but there is another story to be told that is just as powerful, just as potent, which is the human capacity to feel compassion.

Lee Hirsch's Film Bully explores the impact of bullying, a problem that is hard to deny considering the recent media attention to young people who commit suicide to escape the torment of their peers. The cliché "kids will be kids" has never convinced me that bullying cannot be stopped, and the impact of Hirsch's film is proof. It may have been human nature at one point to club a woman over the head and bring her back to your cave for an unconscious raping session, but as we become more civilized the expectation of how we treat others changes. What sets us apart from any other species is our capacity to reason, and we are wasting this great potential by excusing inexcusable behavior because it feels too hard to change. We have to remind ourselves that our journey is not done just because the physical evolution of losing our body hair and our developing better posture has happened, but that an evolution of consciousness is still to come.

Hirsch's movie not only highlights a social problem: it is the start of a movement. To me what is most profound about this documentary is the potential for a generation of young people to develop radically different standards of social conduct. I would say that the majority of people have never been bullied, or have never bullied another, but 100 percent of people have witnessed bullying. If this film can empower those exposed to bullying to intervene, speak up, and collectively enforce the idea that this is not a way to behave, the energy will spread and real transformation can happen. That is what I find so compelling about young people, that they not only have the capacity for change, but they have the idealism to want to make the world a better place. Where Hirsch's movie is so successful is that it ignites empathy for those that have been bullied and will forever imprint in the minds of those who have seen it. So the more kids who watch the movie and join the movement, the greater potential that our human nature will eventually become one ruled by love and not hate.

TN: How do you think a film about the subject of bullying will translate into the changing of people's behavior?

LH: We did not aim to prescribe solutions for the possibility for social change but wanted to allow for the space for the audience to find for themselves how they can make it their cause. It is a simple call to action which says "find a way to make a difference," I trust in the creativity of people to really take that on.

TN: For people that have suffered through being bullied, or are currently experiencing this type of horrific violence, what message do you want them to get from the film?

LH: That they are not alone, that they have a voice, and don't have to endure this. By engaging with the tools on the website they can build a strategy to get support they need. Someone else will stand with them, even if their parents or teachers don't understand.

TN: For those that have bullied in the past, or who are currently engaging in the act of physically and psychologically attacking others, how do you anticipate this film will impact them? Do you have any examples of someone who has watched this film and wanted to treat people differently after that?

LH: A student wrote on website that after seeing the film he stopped someone from being bullied on the school bus, then went with the victim to talk to a counselor. For bullies, many things might trigger their behavior, from how old they are, to where they are, to how they are treated at home. A lot never really understand how hurtful it can be. When they see the film and how much it can impact someone, they can form another view of what might have seemed fun in the moment. Bully is about changing hearts and minds, and I hope people come away and have access to being part of that change. So many documentaries present problems that seems so insurmountable, like saving the oceans or ending famine. With Bully, you can see the problem and then make the decision to be kind.

TN: Do you think your film will help those who witness bullying to embolden them to speak up, or do something to intervene? Do you think this is a realistic expectation?

Absolutely I do and think this is totally realistic. I have a lot of faith in youth. When kids put their minds to something there is nothing more powerful. They are the majority and they don't have to let their school be ruled by bullies. Kids are building communities because they don't want this to be their story. I have heard many kids say that they never would have stepped up if not for seeing this movie. The 80% that bear witness are where we are going to see the change from. They will be the ones leading the charge.

TN: How do you envision your film creating a supportive community where these concepts can be actively addressed?

LH: We are building a lot of resources and have created a fantastic curriculum with youth leadership facilitation guides. There is a whole model for how to best engage with the film. We want to see whole schools facilitating social action campaigns! What excites me is the broader potential of thousands of kids making the decision to be empathetic and understanding the impact of their choices of how they treat people -- which will have life-long positive repercussions.