12/22/2011 10:14 EST | Updated 02/21/2012 05:12 EST

How We Can Stand Up to Bullies


There has been a lot of talk about bullying as of late, particularly in Ontario with Premier McGuinty's recent announcement of anti-bullying legislation. What I find most interesting about it is how some simple rules of communication are making it a powerful movement.

The "cause" of bullying has quietly become important. It's not like bullying just started in the last decade; it's always been present in books, movies, in the school yard, on the streets, and even in the workplace. But it's finally been identified as the root cause of depression, suicides, and violence en mass.

So did we just figure out bullying has a negative outcome? No. Instead, the specific stories of the victims of bullying and the tragic outcomes of their young lives are being held up as examples of what could be prevented -- the media are telling their stories and the power of social media is helping to spread the word. This rise to fame for anti-bullying has also garnered interest from some powerful brands have stood up and said "bullying is not cool" -- namely Lady Gaga who has taken the message to the White House.

Even consumer brands are doing their part. Earlier this year, Glee star Amber Riley launched a campaign titled "Mean Stinks." The Obamas have their own campaign too and used Facebook to launch it in concert with a summit this past March.

From the White House to Queen's Park, various levels and stripes of government have stepped up. The Ontario government is leading the way in Canada, but legislation is in the works or already passed in states such as Michigan, New York, and California to name a few.

Much of this support has been drawn upon from the tragic stories of teens and young adults that were bullied to a point of no return, with irreversible consequence. This is a wise approach. It paints a picture that is impossible to replicate.

No celebrity messenger can draw the same level of emotion or heartache that is inherent in the stories of the victims they represent. When it comes to supporting a cause, knowing the impact and the details behind the issue gets people engaged and rallying behind it like nothing else (celebrities, corporations, and governments included). After all, if we really need Lady Gaga to illustrate why teen suicide is unacceptable, society has deep problems.

The other interesting aspect of the recent buzz about bullying is how Ontario is handling the issue and sticking with a message -- breaking with the usual desire or necessity to move from one announcement to the next. In the case of anti-bullying, the McGuinty government has been at it for weeks straight and it's paying off. The debate continues and the message is getting deeper.

It's only recently when we learned that McGuinty has a personal story about bullying. His recount of his role as schoolyard protector for his siblings was easily relatable, very personable, and made the need for legislation even more clear.

I also appreciate the more memorable quotes I've recently read. Particularly those that demonize bullying, connecting it to other socially unacceptable activities like drunk driving or smoking while pregnant.

By making bullies into social misfits, you're going to get friends and family members involved. Nobody wants to be the brother, sister, friend, or parent of someone who's labeled a deviant. Societal embarrassment will not only discourage bullies but create a community of anti-bullies.

I don't think anyone can really say they aren't against bullying. But it's amazing how quickly strong communications has painted a clearer picture of this issue. There are lessons to be learned for anyone trying to drive a cause: Rally support by making the impact understood and stick with it -- and you can take an issue that's been around since the days of David and Goliath and make it relevant and meaningful, and, more importantly, move the cause forward.