“I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.”
– Monica Lewinsky
Today, the kind of online public shaming Monica Lewinsky went through has become constant — and can turn deadly. In a brave talk, she takes a hard look at our online culture of humiliation, the different reasons for shaming, and asks for new solutions. In the TED Talk, Lewinsky asks for a show of hands: “Who didn’t make a mistake at 22?”
“Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake deeply,” she continues. “In 1998, after having been swept up in an improbable romance, I was then swept up into the eye of a political, legal and media maelstrom like we had never seen before. This scandal was brought to you by the digital revolution,” she says. “It was the first time traditional news was usurped by the Internet, a click that reverberated around the whole world. Lewinsky said that she had very little understanding of what was happening at the time. “Overnight, I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one worldwide,”
At the time of her TED Talk, few in the audience would have been able to identify her voice before Monica Lewinsky stepped on the stage. Monica wrote an essay for Vanity Fair in 2014, but the TED Talk is only the second time she’s spoken in public since disappearing from the public eye in 2005.
Monica relocated to London and began studying social psychology. The media landscape of the mid 1990s was, of course, very different from what it is today.
“This was not something that happened with regularity back then in 1998,” she says. “And by ‘this,’ I mean the stealing of people’s private words, actions conversations or photos and then making them public. Public without consent, public without context and public without compassion.”
Our society’s culture of humiliation has a large price, notes Lewinsky, as she brings up Nicolaus Mills’ concept.
“A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry,” she asks. “How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks; the more clicks, the more advertising dollars … We are in a dangerous cycle: the more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human lives behind it. And the more numb we get, the more we click.”
Lewinsky quickly quotes another TED speaker, Brené Brown, who researches shame. As Brown said in a Twitter conversation in 2014, “Shame can’t survive empathy.” When something shameful happens in your life, shame and vulnerability researcher Dr. Brown says, there are six types of people with whom you shouldn’t share the story. Watch below to find out who they are. Plus, hear why she says everyone needs just one “move-the-body friend.”
- The friend who actually feels shame for you, gasps and confirms how horrified you should be.
- The friend who responds with sympathy (“I feel so sorry for you.”) rather than empathy (“I get it, I feel with you and I’ve been there.”)
- The friend who needs you to be the pillar of worthiness and authenticity, who can’t help because she’s too disappointed in your imperfections.
- The friend who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability that she scolds, “How did you let this happen?”
- The friend who is all about making it better and, out of her own discomfort, refuses to acknowledge that you can actually make terrible choices (“You’re exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad.”)
- The friend who confuses connection with the opportunity to one-up you. (“Well, that’s nothing. Listen what happened to me…”)
“There Are No Prerequisites For Worthiness”
– Brené Brown