Several weeks ago, on the main stage at a TED conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monica Lewinsky spoke out for the first time about public humiliation and shame.
You remember Monica, the 22 year-old White House Intern who fell in love with the President of the United States. She confided in a ‘friend’ who recorded their personal conversations and then made them public. Overnight, Monica was transformed into to a one-dimensional bimbo/slut/tramp/ and “that woman”. This once unbroken young woman lost her reputation, dignity, and almost her life.
I watched the video (http://www.ted.com/talks/monica_lewinsky_the_price_of_shame?language=en ), and was moved to tears at the poignancy of her presentation. Monica talked about what it felt like to live a life where not a day went by without being reminded of her mistake. I felt ashamed because I too was guilty of having reduced her to a punch line.
Over the last 19 years she has reinvented herself as a hand-bag designer, tried reality TV, got a Masters Degree in social psychology from the London School of Economics, and is now writing and speaking about the toll that shame has taken on her life, and that of her family’s.
She said stealing people’s private actions, words, photos, conversations and making them public is destructive and becoming commonplace. Shame and humiliation have become an industry; the Internet has amplified its impact because it gets lots of clicks, and the more clicks the more advertising dollars.
She is now speaking about it publically for the first time about because “it’s time for me to stop tiptoeing through my past, and to take back my own life story”. Cyber bullying is becoming rampant and Monica wants to speak up for the tens of thousands of people who are shamed with tragic consequences. Suicides are increasing because humiliation is a more intense emotion then happiness or anger,
Monica pleaded that as a culture we needed to become more compassionate and empathic. She said that our precious right to freedom of expression could not exceed our responsibility for what it is we say. At the end she told the victims of cyber bullying that they can survive it and create new endings to their life’s stories, and got a standing ovation,
Let’s take responsibility for what we say, and try to walk a mile in somebody else’s headline before passing judgment.