In 1998, I was 14 years old. My memories include navigating 8th grade and Algebra, my crooked teeth feeling the injustice of braces, and the excitement of setting up my very first email account.
I also remember the scandal that rocked a nation that year: a scandal with Monica Lewinsky at its epicenter. I remember the names she was called. I remember the judgment rained down upon her from news outlets and pulpits alike. I remember those who said she deserved to be persecuted in the media: she deserved the names, the negative attention…after all, “what did she expect?” What I don’t remember from that time is mercy, empathy, or compassion.
So, when I came across Monica Lewinsky’s recent TED Talk entitled, “The Price of Shame,” I was curious. She, perhaps better than anyone, knows exactly what that price is. In her moving speech, which is sometimes funny, often heartbreaking, but at all times sincere, she addresses the chronic issue of cyber bullying head on.
We’ve come a long way since 1998 when the Internet was still in its infancy. Now we have Facebook and Twitter, blogs and vlogs, comment sections and slews of commenters who are quick to voice their opinions to the world. And what of those opinions? Sometimes thoughtful and thought-provoking, yes. But more often callous, biting and malicious. We still have a cavernous deficit of mercy, empathy, and compassion.
Monica Lewinsky is just one in a long line of individuals and corporations that have shed light on the ongoing crisis of cyber bullying and its long-lasting, often permanent, effects. Coca Cola’s Super Bowl ad, which Bonnie Dwyer discussed in her recent editorial, is one such example.
I see ads like Coca Cola’s and hear speeches like Monica Lewinsky’s and I’m reminded of negative and hurtful messages that have been directed at me. I also remember times when it was I who was less-than-kind online. As a millennial, I have never known a world without cyber bullying. It has been an accepted part of my understanding; just as unavoidable as Algebra and braces. But unlike Algebra and braces, cyber bullying isn’t a distant memory. It is an ever-growing, relentless problem in our technologically-driven lives.
Never before in the history of our world have the words of so many held so much power. Power that is too often used to attack, belittle, and bully. Words hurled viciously in the relative safety and anonymity afforded to anyone with a username and an Internet connection.
When we enter the gauntlet of the Internet and appoint ourselves judge, jury and executioner while cruelly attacking the character of others, our only accomplishment is the dehumanization of ourselves.
What if instead, we used our words and their power to bolster and encourage those with whom we share this planet? Perhaps in doing so, we’d regain some of the humanity we’ve lost along the way.
As Ms. Lewinsky so eloquently states: “We all want to be heard. But let’s acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention.” I am ready to accept this challenge: a challenge to make the world just a little bit better. A challenge to #ClickWithCompassion. Are you?
Alisa Williams is Spirituality Editor for SpectrumMagazine.org.