“…humiliation [is] a more intensely felt emotion than either happiness or even anger. Cruelty to others is nothing new, but online, technologically enhanced shaming is amplified, uncontained, and permanently accessible.” (from Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk, “The Price of Shame”?
I have been thinking about how to write this blog for weeks now. It seems salacious, at first, because the fate of Monica Lewinsky has been pummeled into our consciousness and I know the meta-messages around the fate of “that woman”. Today, I heard another author echoing the same concept of Monica Lewinsky’s “The Price of Shame”, calling out for me to reframe and rethink the story we were told. And so, if you haven’t yet listened to this TED Talk, and you know the name of Monica Lewinsky, you kind of owe it to her and yourself to listen to it, as she “takes back her narrative”. But don’t listen if you imagine that she could have possibly chosen, in any way, what happened to her as her life became a round-the-clock news pandemonium.
Ms. Lewinsky’s presentation starts with her poignant and untold(!) perspective of the instant that the spectacular potential of the internet became kinetic - the immediate, horrifying and world-wide damning repercussion of her naïve and totally conceivable decisions. After painting the famous story in its actual human perspective, Lewinsky continues the piece, in much more glaring colors. Lewinsky exposes the transparent thrust for unrestrained castigating - it isn’t (only) the unhealthy projection of nameless stone-throwers and internet trolls seeking temporary anodyne from insecurity in Comment sections or public forums. She emblazons the “culture of humiliation that not only encourages and revels in schadenfreude but also rewards those who humiliate others, from the ranks of the paparazzi to the gossip bloggers, the late-night comedians, and the Web ‘entrepreneurs’ who profit from clandestine videos.” (link). Lewinsky and other attentive folks are calling out the corporate profit, the marketplace of shame - clicks on an online story, the re-sharing and retweeting of humiliation. Search giants like Google and online forums like Twitter eschew responsibility and wrap their platforms instead in “freedom of speech”.
What’s to be done? “Changing behavior begins with evolving beliefs.” Lewinsky reminds us of previously unappreciated aspects of America that now get headlines of support - environmentalism, minority rights, respect for service. In no small part, these monumental changes are due to individual protests redefining the national discourse. She challenges us not to bystand, she challenges us to “upstand”; to defuse the virtual risk we citizens now inhabit 24/7, we must start making small but significant contributions addressing the present and improving the future. “We need to communicate online with compassion, consume news with compassion, and click with compassion.” To slow and address the poisonous mob think, Lewinsky points out the cultural value, the necessity for society’s individuals to actively care, out loud.
On the local NPR show RadioWest, Jon Ronson also shared similar warnings from his book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”. Ronson shares stories of the recent drama and risk in social media – and the “delicious” excitement of dehumanizing, reducing someone’s entire life and value to one stupidly phrased tweet or even a tasteless or cruel public, irretrievable comment. Ronson asks us – expressly as strangers who declare they want to make the world a better place -- to re-humanize these victims and feel the terror they have (hopefully) survived. And then, in order to reduce the bloodlust that is so typical online, to share empathy, kindness and compassion, rather than cold, hard judgment.
“Isn’t it kind of sad,” asks Ronson, “that through all of this judgment, and shaming, and surveilling, we’ve created - out of this Garden of Eden of the internet, we’ve created a world that the smartest way to survive is to be bland?”
We can change this.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Patrick Logan, MS is a former wilderness therapy program manager and is presently IT consulting with programs and websites.
For a powerful look into Shame, please watch TED.com’s Brené Brown talk on The Power of Vulnerability.