Seeing Online Humiliation with Clear, Compassionate Eyes

Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit, an empathy crisis…. We need to communicate online with compassion, consume news with compassion and click with compassion.

~ Monica Lewinksy in a 2015 TED Talk

Last week, for the first time ever, I intentionally looked at a news story about Monica Lewinsky.

When the Clinton scandal broke, it was early in what became 22 years of my being a clergy sexual abuse activist — and I knew that the repercussions Ms. Lewinsky was about to experience would be far too close to some of the attacks I was suffering through. (That harrowing aftermath still conjures images of being caught in a meat-grinder.) It was clear that it would be like this for Ms. Lewinsky too — only exponentially worse. I wanted no part in the inevitable gawking, gossiping, bullying, and so forth that would masquerade as news.

What I couldn’t have foreseen was that eventually Ms. Lewinsky would use her horrifying experiences as a gateway into profound compassion and wisdom — and that she would go on to share these gifts with the world. With phenomenal generosity of spirit, she offers her story and the insights she’s gleaned “to help others in their darkest moments of humiliation.” To quote the blurb for her TED talk: “In a brave talk, she takes a hard look at our online culture of humiliation, and asks for a different way.”

Online culture of humiliation…. A different way…. These are central parts of this very website that I’m building and make it more than enough to merit a post.

However, to my surprise she also touched me profoundly. I’m many years past “the darkest moments of humiliation.” Nonetheless, I was thunderstruck listening to her 2015 TED Talk. Never before have I framed my excruciating aftermath as “public humiliation.” When I heard her say these words I knew she’d nailed it — named it. I could feel seemingly unrelated things connecting up.

I realize I’m far from alone in these forms of suffering and, in my activist years, I did speak up on behalf of victims of clergy sexual abuse. By 2015, though, I had become trapped in a confining role that was no longer life-serving for me and so I left this type of activism.

But now I see how speaking up online about humiliation or, as she puts it, being an “upstander,” can both be a major piece of this website and help with healing. And this can be done without pitching me back into old roles and patterns. It’s a different type of activism in a different arena — an arena I care about keenly — the Web.

However, before I truly take this on, I need to explore my new understanding of “online humiliation.” I need to look at it with clear eyes and see where it’s leading me.

This approach reminds me of the third stage of Joanna Macy’s Spiral of Work That Reconnects: “Seeing with New/Ancient Eyes.”

Experiencing the reality of our inter-existence helps us see with new/ancient eyes. We can sense how intimately and inextricably we are related to all that is. We can taste our own power to change, and feel the texture of our living connections with past and future generations.

Then will come what Ms. Lewinsky calls being an “Upstander” and what Ms. Macy calls “Going Forth.” Look for more posts soon.