“The Echo of Embarrassment”

Like a stone tossed into water, public humiliation has a ripple effect. We can easily draw up a list of people who have endured public shame in recent times. Maybe we’ve even had a few judgmental thoughts about them. But do we ever think to listen to them?

Thanks to an excellent post by Nicki Chen, “Easter Thoughts on New Life and Monica Lewinsky,” I listened to a recent TED Talk by Monica Lewinsky—a woman publicly vilified in 1998. (Click on Nicki’s post title to head to her blog, Behind the Story.)

1372175047000-Monica-L

Monica Lewinsky

I remember my thoughts back then, when we first learned about her. My sympathies were for a wife humiliated by her husband’s affair. I never gave a thought to how Ms. Lewinsky might have felt. Until now. Until her talk. You might lend her your ear, if you have a spare 22 minutes.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Lewinsky talked about the pain she and others experienced after being bullied online. Some quotes that jumped out at me from her talk:

Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit, an empathy crisis. Researcher Brené Brown said, and I quote, “Shame can’t survive empathy.”. . . Just imagine walking a mile in someone else’s headline.

brene_brown_2344441b

Brené Brown

If you listened to the talk, you’ll recognize that the title of this post comes from it. As Ms. Lewinsky stated

The echo of embarrassment used to extend only as far as your family, village, school or community, but now it’s the online community too.

Isn’t that the truth? It’s sad how lives become fair game for others to rip apart. I cried when I heard the talk, mainly because I realize how judgmental I usually am when I think someone “deserves” to be ridiculed. Those who have experienced it know that online persecution is a descent into hell without a “get out of jail free” card.

get_out_of_jail_free

I can’t speak for you, but I’ve got a few words for myself, thanks to this talk. It takes only a few seconds to scar someone for life with one’s words. It also takes only a few seconds to sympathize with someone and possibly turn that person’s life around. Instead of joining the crowd throwing rocks, I can do something else: I can consider how I would feel to take such a public blow. I can also find a better use for my words—building someone up with them.

Basalt wall rock

There’s another famous story that mirrors Monica’s. If you’ve got another few moments, you might check out John 8:1-11 in the Bible.

Shame

Monica Lewinsky photo from somewhere online. Monopoly “get out of jail free” card from texasxriders.com. Rocks from thedangergarden. Brené Brown from telegraph.co.uk. Public shaming sign from mashable.com.