Whether it’s spoken or written, in person or virtual, the impact of our communication – in words, and sometimes even more powerfully in images – is significant. After a 10 year silence, Monica Lewinsky is beginning to speak up – with intention and compassion.
Her first public speech after her decade-long public silence, was to 1,000-plus young entrepreneurs and achievers at Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia. She ended by quoting Oscar Wilde who wrote:
It were wiser still to say that behind sorrow there is always a soul.
And to mock at a soul in pain is a dreadful thing.”
More personally than most, Monica Lewinsky would know. For any who don’t know her story, in 1998, when news of her affair with then US President Bill Clinton broke, she became (as she says in an essay in Vanity Fair last June) “possibly the first person whose global humiliation was driven by the Internet.”
So why is she speaking up now? It’s not only her own pain from 17 years ago when as she put it, in a New York Times article last week she went from being a private citizen to, “a publicly humiliated one.”
Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk: The price of shame
In her recent TED Talk in Vancouver “The Price of Shame” where Ms Lewinsky continued standing and speaking with intention and compassion, she shared the story of “a young college freshman from Rutgers University named Tyler Clementi. Sweet, sensitive, creative Tyler was secretly webcammed by his roommate while being intimate with another man. When the online world learned of this incident, the ridicule and cyberbullying ignited. A few days later, Tyler jumped from the George Washington Bridge to his death. He was 18.”
She also shared some stats “ChildLine, a U.K. nonprofit that’s focused on helping young people on various issues, released a staggering statistic late last year: From 2012 to 2013, there was an 87 percent increase in calls and emails related to cyberbullying. A meta-analysis done out of the Netherlands showed that for the first time, cyberbullying was leading to suicidal ideations more significantly than offline bullying.”
And beyond the personal toll of cyberbullying that many (particularly women, minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community) have paid, Ms Lewinsky points to another reason for her standing and speaking. This one the profit of those who prey on others.
As she says “A marketplace has emerged 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.” Truth is there are many out there who are speaking up for attention, and to cut.
Revenge porn is one of the ways this shows up. Not everyone has the courage and support systems to do what victim of revenge porn Emma Holten did. In an Elle Magazine article she spoke of her posting online nude photographs of herself taken by photgrapher Cecilie Bødker. “The pictures are an attempt at making me a sexual subject instead of an object. I am not ashamed of my body, but it is mine. Consent is key. Just as rape and sex have nothing to do with each other, pictures shared with and without consent are completely different things.”
So what can we do to make a difference here?
Emma Holten makes it clear that while posting pictures of herself without her clothes on is one of the routes she took to fight back against revenge porn, she isn’t telling other victims to do the same. She acknowledges “The possibilities that are available to me are not to all, and thus what I have done is not a fix for all, and can easily become condescending to victims who have it much harder than I.”
Emma Holten’s suggestions for those of us who aren’t victims: “Be very aware of the sites you visit. Do not visit porn sites that have “Facebook Exposed” categories, do not visit porn sites that rely on third party uploading. Actually, in general, be at all times aware that the porn you consume was made in a responsible environment where the talent is well cared for. Abuse and exploitation happen at many levels of the porn industry, and making a clear statement that you are a person who values the lives of performers will reduce demand for the darker levels where people are not treated well. Last of all: rein in your curiosity! I want to see a person naked too, but value consent. Do not seek out stolen photos of celebrities for example. Report questionable material if you stumble upon it. Quite simply, start thinking about people you see on the net as people.”
And Tyler Clementi’s parents have some ideas. Since his death in 2010, they set up the Tyler Clementi Foundation in his memory. Their mission is to promote “safe, inclusive and respectful social environments for vulnerable youth, LGBT youth and their allies.”
Each one of us can make a difference. They invite us all to become upstanders – whether in person or online, rather than bystander apathy, choosing to treat people with respect and compassion, reaching out, speaking up or posting a positive comment when others are being offensive, and reporting bullying situations.
Those of us in the Realizing RICH Relationships community hold the vision and take a stand for co-creating a world where we treat each other with respect, and with the degree of intimacy appropriate for the relationship. Often it takes courage to stand and speak in the face of what can feel like a culture where attemps at humiliating others seems to be becoming more widely acceptable, and to honour our humanity in those moments when we don’t stand as powerfully as we intend.
As Meg Wheatley points out in her book So Far From Home – lost and found in our brave new world, we can choose to be warriors for the human spirit, transforming “our grief, outrage, and frustration into the skills of insight and compassion to serve … with bravery, decency, and gentleness … doing what is ours to do no matter what.”
She paints a picture of how we be warriors for the human spirit that are so resonant for us in this community, calling us to “engage wholeheartedly, embody values we cherish, let go of outcomes, and carefully attend to relationships,” focusing “not so much on making a difference as on being a difference”.
Community plays a crucial role in our attending to relationships with first with ourselves, then with others, and all of life. As I said to someone today, when we’re feeling weary, scared, or overwhelmed, those in our community can remind us of the things we know to be true – we can be for each other what I call “God – with skin on.” If you feel resonance here, do be in touch.