"You're looking at a woman that was publicly silent for a decade."
And so begins Monica Lewinksy's Ted talk. I cannot imagine the courage it would take to stand before a crowd and speak about the time the world gleefully mocked and shamed me. If there was ever a person to share why we need compassion and empathy, particularly in these times of rapant online bullying, it's Monica.
I came across this talk in an article in The Guardian. I hadn't thought about her much since the Bill Clinton scandal, but when I saw her name I was instantly curious.
When I first heard of Monica I was 16 years old. At the time it didn't seem like it, but at 24, when the news broke, Monica wasn't that much older than me. She was 22 when the whole affair started, which puts into perspective how young and naive she was, a girl seemingly trying to find her way in the world of government, a world few learn to navigate even as adults.
When I look back on that time, it's hard not to feel angry for how Monica was treated. It's hard not to imagine myself in that role. This is a joke Jay Leno made about the incident:
"Monica Lewinsky has gained back all the weight she lost last year. [She’s] considering having her jaw wired shut but then, nah, she didn’t want to give up her sex life."
If someone said that about me on national TV, and then the audience laughed like I was the most trivial, ridiculous, and lewd thing ever, I don't know that I could recover. And even if I did, I don't know how I would find it in my heart to feel any sort of trust or openness to other people.
What I know now, as an adult looking at it all, is Monica's got some grit. To be able to live through all of that and then walk through this world with her chin up is something I not only deeply admire, but it's the kind of strength and resilience I seek to nurture in myself. Thankfully, despite intense, overwhelming messages that she was nothing, worthless, scum, trash, she pulled through and is now an advocate for anti-bullying online.
“A market place has emereged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry. How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars... The more we click on this kind of gossip the more numb we get to the human lives behind it... All the while, someone is making money off of the back of someone else's suffering. With every click, we make a choice."
Monica's main message is that not only do we need more compassion while online, but we have to realize that this is one of the biggest issues of our time. We have to realize that when someone's privacy has been hacked, when a humiliating story is shared, when someone is judged enmasse, that there is a real person on the other end of that. We have to realize that with each click on a salicious story we are supporting the privacy hackers, the gossipers, the haters. We have to realize that people end their lives because of the hatred, sorrow and humiliation they have faced online.
When I heard her story in her own words I knew I would look at things different. Just because I can anonymously read a story doesn't absolve me. It only makes me a silent partner in destroying and/or violating someone else's life.
If you'd like to hear Monica's story and know the person behind the headlines, watch the video below. There is so much I want to say about Monica and her talk, about what an undeniable badass she is, how incredibly strong and resilient she is, and about how she blew me away with her poise and intelligence. I could go on and on about how much she inspired me, and how much it got me to self-reflect on what happened and how I, like everyone else, turned my back on a person being shredded by the media and those using her for their own gain. I'm sorry Monica. To say you deserved better is too much of an understatement. We can't go back and redo what happened, but we can certainly support this woman who is a beacon of light in a world of shadows.
"I was seen by many, but known by few. And I get it. It was easy to forget that "That Woman" was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken."