For the next few minutes, I ask, no I beg you to put aside all political, religious and cultural opinions, but instead think back to a time when you felt humiliated, completely and utterly embarrassed. What other emotions does this moment in your past illicit? Is it sadness, tears, anger, depression? Now imagine if this moment of shame was broadcasted on a global scale.
In 1998, Monica Lewinsky says, "I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously." I applaud Lewinsky for speaking out about her experience in the new TED Talk entitled The Price of Shame. This talk serves as a catalyst for us to think about online shaming, and how we can change this.
First, let me make myself clear. I am not condoning Lewinsky's 1998 actions, but the public shaming she endured because these actions, is something I believe no one should have to endure.
Shaming isn't a new phenomenon, but the way it's happening has continued to evolve as culture evolves. Anthropologist Ruth Benedict believed cultures are classified by their emphasis on the use of either shame or guilt to regulate the social activities of individuals (Stephen Pattison, Shame: Theory, Therapy and Theology. Cambridge University Press, 2000. 54). In fact, "shame campaign" is an actual term defined as a tactic in which particular individuals are singled out because of their behavior or suspected crimes, often by marking them publicly. An example of a shame campaign would be Hester Prynne's character in Nathaniel Hawthorne's, The Scarlet Letter.
Historically, the use of stocks or gallows was a public shame campaign, and let us not forget one of the biggest public displays of shaming: Jesus' crucifixion. The Romans intended crucifixion to be the most humiliating way to die, and our Savior, the only perfect human being, the Son of Man in no way deserved to die in this manner. Today, as Lewinsky points out, public shaming mostly happens via the Internet, which has cyberbullying and suicide rates skyrocketing.
Other examples of cyberbullying and online shame campaigns include: Justine Sacco's Twitter mistake, Tyler Clementi's suicide after his roommate filmed a sexual encounter and posted it online and teen pregnancy ads. Please note, these links are to articles about these events.
Lewinsky calls for a change, and I stand next to her calling for the same change, but in a different way. After delivering staggering results about the damage of cyberbullying, Lewinsky charges the audience to be the change by continually posting positive comments, and that over time change will come:
In the online world, we can foster minority influence by becoming upstanders. To become an upstander means instead of bystander apathy, we can post a positive comment for someone or report a bullying situation. Trust me, compassionate comments help abate the negativity….We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression. We all want to be heard, but let's acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention…. but online, showing empathy to others benefits us all and helps create a safer and better world. We need to communicate online with compassion, consume news with compassion, and click with compassion. Just imagine walking a mile in someone else's headline.
Lewinsky's audience may have been from different walks of life, but I'm writing to us as Christians. Let us not only become upstanders, but let us truly live out what Christ has called us to - loving others as we ourselves would want to be loved, and striving to be more and more like Him. Let the world know us by our love and compassion toward others. The author of Hebrews writes:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV).
I will be the first to admit that I have been involved in online public shaming. It's not hard to find online with sites like People of Walmart, dog shaming and which actors/actresses failed to impress at the latest award show. We are all human, and thankfully, my mistakes, my failures and the days I make poor fashion choices aren't plastered all over the Internet for strangers to mock me.
So, instead of continuing to involve myself in public shaming, I resolve to spread Christ's love and compassion, and hopefully be marked by my kindness toward others.