Lady Gaga commands the abundant love of millions of fans. But when she launched the Born This Way Foundation recently at Harvard, she acknowledged that she’s exposed to hate as well.
Responding to a question from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Gaga said she receives “a tremendous amount” of hateful messages, some too violent to describe in polite Harvard company. But Gaga doesn’t talk about the hate. For one thing, she said, “why give it energy?”
But more importantly, Gaga said she always has a “moment of empathy” for the senders. She thinks about the insecurity or mental turmoil they must be experiencing. “They must really be going through something today,” she said, to say cruel things to someone they don’t even know.
In those few unscripted lines, among all the pomp that accompanies her superstar status, Gaga expressed the heart of the day. One of the most famous women in the world empathizes with even her haters—a powerful example for young people to do the same, too.
Born This Way Foundation is not an anti-bullying charity; Gaga emphasized that the foundation will not dwell in negativity. Perhaps in applying empathy toward her own bullies, she realized that bullying is a symptom of disempowerment.
And despite the labels put on them—bullies, victims, bystanders—young people are all potential agents of positive change. Born This Way seeks to promote a cultural shift toward love, acceptance, and kindness by empowering youth through three pillars: safety, skills, and opportunity.
What if we made those the pillars of our education system—to provide safe environments for young people to develop the skills they need to thrive and the opportunities to put those skills into practice? And what if we ensured that every child, every day, gets to experience his or her own moment of empathy?
We’re betting with Lady Gaga that once we do this, we’ll have a generation of young people with the power not only to end bullying, but to take on any challenge. Everyone can be a changemaker. Or in Gaga-speak, we are all superstars.
Editor's note: This post has been reblogged from Ashoka's Empathy blog.