Shame Cannot Survive Empathy

Over the years I have written many posts about the negative impact of online public shaming and cyber-bullying, as well as the major downsides to the global democratization and sharing of content. I’ve also read countless books (most recently Jon Ronson’s “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed“) and discussed this topic extensively with others. Nothing I’ve come across has ever packaged and actioned this important topic quite so well as this TED talk I just watched by Monica Lewinsky (embedded below).

She was, as she rightly points out, patient zero of modern online public shaming. It was 1998, the year headline news started to be consumed online by the masses. The era before the terms “social media” or “web 2.0” were ever used. I don’t even need to remind anyone of what she became famous for, as to this day a simple Google search will do.

However, as even her digital footprint shows, there really is hope. Slowly but surely Monica Lewinsky is taking back control of the narrative of her life, which for two decades now has been written by others. She is speaking out about the unfathomable technology augmented public shaming she went through, that few humans had ever experienced on a global instantaneous scale before.

Fast forward to 2015 and sadly, things have only gotten worse.

Monica’s call to action however did resonate with me as there are baby steps we can take to counter-act this pervasive trend:

  1. Stop clicking or engaging in any way with shaming content
  2. If you feel empathy, post a supportive message. Ignore the trolls that will follow.

And as shame and vulnerability researcher Dr. BrenĂ© Brown points out (and of course many religious leaders and philosophers before her): “Shame cannot survive empathy”. If the victim knows that at least one other person can genuinely understand how difficult it must be for them, that can be all that is needed to save a life. Please watch this very important 18 minute talk.

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