“At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss. And at the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences…Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake deeply.”
Nobody knows more about public shame and humiliation than Monica Lewinsky, and the 41-year-old former headline news subject has been speaking out more than ever about her ordeal in the late ’90s.
“I was patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously,” she told a packed audience in Vancouver, BC during a TED talk titled “The Price of Shame.”
“The attention and judgment I received — not the story — but that I personally received, was unprecedented. I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo.”
Highlighting the dire consequences of intruding on someone’s private life and making it public, Monica talks about a phone conversation between her and her mother about the 2012 suicide of Tyler Clementi. “Tyler was secretly webcammed by his roommate while being intimate with another man,” she tells the audience. “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 eighteen.”
But what struck Monica was her mother’s reaction to the heartbreaking story. “My mom was beside herself about what happened to Tyler and his family, and she was gutted with pain in a way that I just couldn’t quite understand. And then eventually I realized she was reliving 1998, reliving a time when she sat by my bed every night…a time when she made me shower with the bathroom door open…a time when both of my parents feared that I would be humiliated to death.”
It was Tyler’s story and a growing feeling that enough is enough that urged Monica to step willfully back into the public sphere to share her experience.
“Too many parents have learned of their child’s suffering and humiliation after it was too late…Tyler’s senseless tragic death was a turning point for me…and I then began to look at the world of humiliation and bullying around me and see something different.”
She points to research that cyberbullying has been on a steep incline, and that, “humiliation [is] a more intensely felt emotion than either happiness or even anger.”
“What we need is a cultural revolution — public shaming as a bloodsport has to stop, and it’s time for an intervention on the internet and our culture.”
She calls for a return to compassion and empathy on and offline, and finishes by telling those who suffer from ridicule that they “can insist on a different ending to [their] story.”
Watch the full TED talk below: