"When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself." Earl Nightingale
This is Monica Lewinsky's year -- her time to step out of the shadow of a reputation that precedes her and remind the world that she is not a headline, gossip fodder or the butt of a 17-year-long joke -- she is a real person who feels joy and pain just like the rest of us.
And, at one time, she was the most humiliated person on the planet.
I recently watched Monica's TEDTalk, "The Price of Shame," and was moved by her poise and passion to advocate for an end to cyber bullying and to present herself as an example of someone who survived its often fatal attacks.
When you search Wikipedia for the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, its entry is titled the "Lewinsky scandal" as if she was the only player -- not a pair of consensual adults, one of whom included the President of the United States, the world's most powerful man.
Monica bore the brunt of that scandal and was subjected to the world's judgement beyond anything we had seen before -- and quite possibly have since.
The problem is, when Monica's story broke, it was the first to do so online -- there was no precedent and therefore no understanding of limitations. It was like everyone went wild and no one remembered that the person we were attacking was just a 22-year-old girl.
And like Monica admitted, who hasn't taken a wrong turn at 22?
Who are we to judge a young girl who fell in love with her boss and became the scapegoat for a mistake that, quite frankly, a lot of people would have made in her position? Who are we to judge ANYONE for their mistakes?
This blog is for Monica Lewinsky. If I could tell her one thing it would be -- shame on us.
"I was seen by many, but actually known by few." Monica Lewinsky
Today, cyber bullying has become pandemic. According to Bullying Statistics, 50 per cent of young people have been bullied online -- and what's even more shocking and upsetting, is the same number have cyber bullied others.
This kind of judgement and humiliation is not something we leave behind as we age; adults are being bullied by other adults too. While kids seem to gravitate towards victims they know, adults often engage in anonymous trolling -- inserting upsetting commentary in places it does not belong for the sole purpose of getting an emotional rise out of a stranger.
Why do we do this? Why do we feel the need to pass judgment on someone else's life? Like my opening quote by late speaker and author Earl Nightingale states -- we define OURSELVES most of all when we attempt to define others.
Studies show that humiliation is more intensely felt than happiness or anger. Perhaps we judge others as a self-defence mechanism to avoid feeling humiliated ourselves? I'm sure we've all experienced that gut-wrenching feeling called "shame" at one point in our lives. It's terrible -- why would we wish it on anyone else?
"If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive." Brené Brown
In her TEDTalk, Monica says the antidote for humiliation and shame is empathy and compassion. I couldn't agree more. Empathy is paramount. When we can walk a mile in someone else's shoes (or in Monica's case, "in someone else's headline"), we are better equipped with perspective. Empathy helps us see the world through someone else's eyes and it opens our own eyes wider. We better understand motivations and intentions. We look deeper into situations and we reserve having an opinion until we know the facts.
Judging, as a behaviour, is something we learned throughout our human evolution; it's what kept us out of bad situations and in pursuit of good ones. It's what continues to keep us away from people who might hurt us and into the arms of the ones who will love us. But there's a different kind of judgement that we use to humiliate or degrade others. That kind of judgement has malicious intent, where the former kind is meant to protect us.
One of the ways we can avoid judging other people is to ask ourselves where the judgment is coming from: a place of harm or a place of help? If it's harm, then we need to take a step back and reflect on our own motives. What is it we want to achieve? Do we honestly want to hurt this other person, and if so, for what reason? Or - do we actually want to knock them down because WE feel inferior? If that's the case, then we should use the urge to judge as a path to make changes in our own life -- and the same can be said for when we are the ones who've been judged.
"When you feel humiliated, you either use it as fuel to change or you get covered by it." Diane Von Furstenberg
Is there a positive side to shame? DVF has a point that it's up to us how we use our experiences in life, but sometimes humiliation can be so overwhelming it's hard to find any good in it. Especially when you're young, like Monica was, and don't really know yourself yet. She was only 22 -- she didn't have a fully acquired sense of self to return to from this damage. When that happens, it can be too easy to believe your false reputation -- to believe what they say about you is true. This is probably why so many bullied young people turn to suicide as their only escape. They don't know that it gets better. It's up to us to tell them.
Perhaps Monica Lewinsky is only now, at 41, beginning to truly know herself, to believe that things will get better. Perhaps that's why this is her year. I applaud her decision to stand up as a role model for victims of cyber-bullying; a lot of misleading labels have been given to this woman but I think we can all agree that she's brave.
So here's to you, Monica. Shame on us for all we put you through. Our judgments do not define you; they simply define ourselves.
"Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free." Eckhart Tolle