The destructive nature of shaming
I recently watched an interview with, of all people, Monica Lewinski. The interviewer, John Oliver, was doing a feature on shaming. He talked about how it can be useful if it gets a shameful person or entity to change their ways. He also talked about how it can be unwarranted and overwhelming.
He referenced a woman suing her nephew because she fell while trying to hug him and broke her wrist. On the surface, she seems like the worst aunt ever. But in the backstory we learned that the woman’s health insurance could only cover so much and she was still left with tremendous medical bills. If she sued the boy, the parents’ homeowners insurance would kick in and cover the remainder of the bills. Everyone involved was on board with the plan. But when taken in a snippet, she seemed shame-worthy and the Internet went wild. Even when she went on national television to try to clear her name, the morning program labeled the segment “Worst aunt ever speaks out.”
Eventually the woman was forced to change her name so she could move on with her life.
Lewinski talked about how hurtful the shaming has been and how it is still the defining moment of her life.
Even so, she said, she is very fortunate the scandal did not break during the age of social media.
Social media can be a very nasty place. The Internet and social media have so much power to be a wonderful tool, a wonderful place for positive change. But instead, society chooses to use it as a platform to belittle and pass judgment. Some people use it to the very worst end.
It is amazing to me that we say things online that we would never imagine saying to someone’s face. We feel justified weighing in, even being outraged, about something that doesn’t impact us, we know very little about, and has been on our radar for mere minutes. It is amazing how empowered we feel to pass judgment as long as a mob of others, most of them equally uninformed and unconnected, are with us. In one post we preach about civility and tolerance, pound our religion at people or pat our own back at how progressive we are and in the next post, spit the most vile, judgmental things we can think of about people we don’t even know. Worse yet are the emboldened trolls who spew venom behind a mask of anonymity.
None of us want to be known forever by our worst moments. None of us want to believe that we are the very worst thing we ever did. We are all so much more. We all have the power to change, to overcome, to move on. The question is, do we have the power to forgive and forget.
My boss told me recently that my online persona is very different, much nicer and more reserved, than my in person personality. (I share pictures from our National Parks, Peanuts cartoons and a lot of Scripture verses that I am working through in my own mind.) I think my online personality is the person I want to be, that I aspire to be. Even in real life, I try to vent to people I trust, but when I walk out into public, I try to bring light and love with me.
-Mac Cordell is a reporter for the Journal-Tribune.
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