Is Empathy the Antidote to Bullying?

Sometimes, a movie is just a movie, but what happens when a movie becomes a movement? Bully touched me in a profound way, not only because it made me reflect on my own life, but also on the life of my daughter.
02/27/2013 04:53 pm ET Updated Apr 29, 2013
Stop Bullying
Stop Bullying

Sometimes, a movie is just a movie, but what happens when a movie becomes a movement? Our relationship to media is so complex because it not only serves as pure entertainment, but can also affect our behavior. If media were not influential, then companies wouldn't spend millions of dollars each year on commercials. Yet as much as we fear the content we don't want our children to see, we need to work to expose them to what we do think is worth watching. Using films as a tool to exemplify social issues and create dialogue has proven to be a very successful model as a means to educate. The film Bully, a documentary by Lee Hirsch, has made it possible to transcend the screen and make a real impact on people's lives, helping them address the rampant problem of bullying in today's school system.

Bully touched me in a profound way, not only because it made me reflect on my own life, but also on the life of my daughter. I don't want my child to be bullied or feel unsafe in her school environment, but I also don't want her to participate in bullying. Of course, as a parent, I cannot solely rely on school teachings or outside influence to mold my child's moral compass. A lot of that work has to be done at home. But at the same time, children spend more time at school than they do with mom or dad. The culture of their school experience will infiltrate their psyches and influence their behavior, and it is important to me that issues of bullying are actively addressed and become part of the conversation.

Where Bully reveals the damage of physical and psychological violence on the victims, The Bully Project has created a curriculum to do something about it. They have teamed up with Facing History and Ourselves and other experts in the field to provide a toolkit for teachers to work with their students with definitive action plans. Their "1 Million Kids Initiative" aims to enroll one million children in this curriculum, and they are already halfway there. The main goal is not to fight bullying as much as to replace this behavior of viciousness with empathy. Their vision is that if kids are empowered and connected to their empathetic instincts, not only will there be fewer bullies, but fewer bystanders tolerating intimidation.

This idea of empathy is one that will not only have a bearing on our children's school lives, but also on the adults they will grow into being. The culture of bullying extends way beyond teasing in the schoolyard and far into the reaches of how our society operates. Corporations bullying the planet and its resources for profit, politicians bullying citizens for control and dominance, police bullying peaceful protesters out of fear of revolution, countries bullying countries in the form of war. Many people excuse both bullying and this type of destructive systemic geopolitical activity as "human nature," but according to Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Empathic Civilization, empathy is our natural state of being.

Biologists and cognitive neuroscientists are discovering mirror-neurons -- the so-called empathy neurons -- hat allow human beings and other species to feel and experience another's situation as if it were one's own. We are, it appears, the most social of animals and seek intimate participation and companionship with our fellows... The growing scientific evidence that we are a fundamentally empathic species has profound and far-reaching consequences for society, and may well determine our fate as a species.

When you have empathy for another person you don't desire to have power over them. The members of The BULLY Project are working to help shape the psyches of today's children to connect to their innate understanding of compassion. Their goal is to help create a generation that makes decisions through the filter of empathy and taking true responsibility for our actions. A crusade is on the horizon of young people who want not only to change the way they treat others, but also to reimagine society as one ruled by love and not fear.

Although some may criticize this as too lofty a goal, why is it all that unimaginable that human beings can prioritize decency over thoughtlessness? It is obvious that our current paradigm is highly problematic and devastating to our planet. The Bully Project is going to the root source of senseless aggression and showing children that we are better than this. And this revolution will be televised. Anderson Cooper is doing a special on February 28th at 10pm on CNN to highlight exactly how Bully has changed the lives of thousands and will continue until it changes the lives of millions. If you would like to spread the word tweet this: "I'm standing with @AC360 & @bullymovie by joining the movement to end bullying in our generation! RT now"