What Monica Lewinsky can teach us about overcoming public bullying
When we think of Bill Clinton, we think of a former president, maybe even the husband of a future president. When we think of Monica Lewinsky, we think of an affair, a mistress, a scandal that can never be lived down. Even though both Clinton and Lewinsky were involved in the affair, Clinton was able to shrug off the scandal with time. For Lewinsky, what happened in 1998 when she was 22-years old has defined her existence. As Lewinsky describes it, she was “Patient Zero” for the Internet-driven bullying that, almost 20 years later, is a constant in our lives.
Last year, in Vanity Fair, Lewinsky vowed to “burn the beret and bury the blue dress” and “give a purpose to my past.” So far, she has made good on her words, becoming the perfect advocate in the fight against bullying and public shaming.
Now she’s launched that fight in earnest with a powerful Ted Talk she recently delivered entitled “The Price of Shame.” In it, she shares what it was like to be vilified at 22 (“Who didn’t make a mistake 22?” she asks the audience in her opening) and why she’s speaking out now about the ramifications of pubic shaming.
In her speech, she details what it felt like to be shamed by the public as a young woman, and proposes both problems and solutions for this new landscape of heightened, widespread scrutiny.
“In 1998, I lost my reputation and my dignity. . . I lost my sense of self,” Lewinsky explains. “When this happened to me, 17 years ago, there was no name for it. Now we call it cyber-bullying.”
“I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo and, of course, ‘that woman,’” she continues. “I was known by many, but actually known by few. I get it. It was easy to forget ‘that woman’ was dimensional and had a soul.”
She goes on to make the connection between the way she was treated by the media (which consistently made light of, or scrutinized her sexual activity, as well as her body) with the mounting and dangerous public bullying we face today on the Internet.
“A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry,” she says. “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 proceeds to raise a call to arms for compassion.
“With every click we make a choice,” she insists. “Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop. . .We need to return to a long-held value of compassion and empathy.”
This week, Lewinsky spoke to the New York Times about her personal renaissance, and the contribution she feels she can make with her experience, and that contribution is that no matter how bad bullying gets, no matter how long it lasts, it is a hardship that can be survived.
“That’s part of what I thought I could contribute,” she explained. “That in someone else’s darkest moment, lodged in their subconscious might be the knowledge that there was someone else who was, at one point in time, the most humiliated person in the world. And that she survived it.”
We are so blown away by Lewinsky’s heart and courage. It takes a tremendous soul to take her own suffering and use the experience to change the world for the better, and we are so grateful to this amazing woman for inspiring people everywhere to bury their pain and transform their past into purpose.