My mom recently sent me an article about Monica Lewinsky.
The article, titled “Monica Lewinsky is Back, but this Time it’s on Her Terms,” sounded intriguing.
So I read it.
And then it broke my heart.
I didn’t realize we are only four years apart (she is 40, I am 44).
Thinking back to when I was her age, I must admit I did some very regrettable things (and got involved with some very regrettable folks)…..but since none of those oopses involved a U.S. president, mostly even I don’t remember them now.
But Monica Lewinsky can’t go an hour without remembering.
A few months ago I posted a blog called “Handling Hate Mail, Hateful Comments, and Hate.”
In this post, I shared one comment – just ONE comment – that cut me straight through….which is one of (in comparison with Monica Lewinsky) just a handful of comments I have received over the years in my semi-public profession working with recovering and recovered people.
At one point during her recent TED talk, Lewinsky asks, “Where is the compassion?”
I have often wondered the same.
The haters who post and write and call anonymously are one thing….but today, very few even bother to hide their identity.
That boggles my mind.
Where is our fear of repercussion? Where is our compassion?
Where is our humanity?
We just spew out our hatred and anger and condemnation so freely….and then….what? Go home and hug our kids? Kiss our partners? Vent to our friends about how mean such-and-so is for gossiping about us at the office? Hope for a five-star review on our annual performance review at work?
Do each of us (or most of us, anyway) really have two personas – the kind, nice, hard-working, hopes-to-be-understood-and-respected-and-loved daily one – and that “Other One” – the one with the really white skin who wears the scary dark cape and has retractable front fangs?
I know both live inside of me.
I also know when the Monica Lewinsky scandal first broke, I was pretty confused by all the hoopla – I wasn’t what you’d call politically savvy (still am not) and so I knew enough to identify a feeling of disappointment with our cheating Prez, but not enough to really comprehend how I felt about the (as he called her) “Other Woman.”
You see, I could have been her.
Right around that same time, I, too, fell in love with my boss. He, too, was married. We, too, got caught (although we were never publicly outed and were allowed to resolve things quietly to ease office politics).
What most gossiping co-workers never knew was that he was also my first love. And my first – everything.
It was a very confusing time for a very confused young woman.
So at the time the original scandal broke, I did feel some level of compassion for Monica Lewinsky, but also far too much personal discomfort and blurry moral judgment to think too deeply on the topic.
NOW, having been mildly victimized by my occasional forays into the spotlight for other reasons entirely, my heart aches for us both….but more deeply for her, because unlike me, she can’t seem to ever escape.
In her “Vanity Fair” article called “Shame and Survival,” Monica opens up about what she is now calling the “Culture of Humiliation.”
She details many of the monikers she has – unwillingly but always knowingly – worn, like “Blow Job Queen” (offered up by a male college student during one of her speeches), “narcissistic loony toon” (this one coined by First Lady Clinton), “some little twerp” (American feminist Betty Friedan), “ditsy and predatory” (Maureen Dowd from the “New York Times”), and the “Dimwit Stalker” (a product of the official White House press).
In her “Vanity Fair” essay, she states, “It may surprise you to learn that I’m actually a person.”
When I read that line, my heart broke yet again.
It reminds me of how I felt when the hateful comment from my own “Handling Hate Mail” post first scrolled across my screen:
Shannon Cutts YOU ARE IGNORANT, STUPID, ILLITERATE, ILLOGICAL, IRRATIONAL, UNSCIENTIFIC, INCOMPETENT, NEGLIGENT, DERELICT, DELUSIONAL and SERIOUSLY MENTALLY SICK!!! PSYCHOTIC!!!
But of course, I was 43 when I read that comment, and unlike the 22 year-old Lewinsky (and my 26 year-old self) I was by then well-equipped to put both comment and semi-anonymous commenter in their proper places.
I have an identity today, and it is fairly well-established and VERY heavily-guarded against input from all but a handful of hand-selected, deeply trusted mentors, family, and friends.
But what if I didn’t have a strong sense of my own identity?
What if, as Monica shares in “Vanity Fair”:
Unlike the other parties involved, I was so young that I had no established identity to which I could return. I didn’t “let this define” me—I simply hadn’t had the life experience to establish my own identity in 1998. If you haven’t figured out who you are, it’s hard not to accept the horrible image of you created by others. (Thus, my compassion for young people who find themselves shamed on the Web.)
In her TED talk, Monica shares what she wants others who may be suffering similarly to know about human survival and HOPE:
Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing: you can survive it,” she said. “I know it’s hard. It may not be painless, quick or easy, but you can insist on a different ending to your story.
She and I are both living proof that this is TRUE.
It is not easy, and often it is not quick, but it is POSSIBLE.
And that is what matters most.
Today’s Takeaway: Can you look back over your life and remember a time or two when you made a small or big oops AND caught flack for it AND struggled to maintain a sense of personal worth through it all? What was that like? What would you say to someone you care about – or even a total stranger – who is enduring something similar now and turns to you for advice? What if you found out that person was thinking of killing themselves because they couldn’t imagine how they could go on? What would you want them to know – and decide?