This is wonderful. Thank you to Sarah Birdsall on Facebook for drawing it to our attention.
Deeply thought-provoking, intelligent, heartfelt and moving – an inspiring example of someone who has taken their own horrible experience and transmuted it with courage into a voice, an ethic of service, much-needed advocacy for compassion and empathy.
Turning people into objects (Buber’s ‘I/it’ relationship), and shaming/humiliation into mass entertainment: these are perilous undertakings for us as individuals and as cultures. Monica illustrates this with her account of Tyler Clementi’s needless and brutal death and, of course, with her own story:-
‘I was seen by many, but actually known by few. And I get it. It was easy to forget that ‘that woman’ was dimensional, had a soul and was once unbroken.’
The writer has had her own experience in the past three years, on a much smaller scale, of choosing to stand alongside someone in Monica’s chair (and being attacked and vilified for that, alongside him). Monica comments that the phenomenon of public shaming plays out independently of ‘whether or not someone actually made a mistake’. Virtual stone-throwers usually have no personal knowledge of the people concerned or the facts, and no authentic interest in the truth or otherwise of the narrative presented. The buzz is the buzz of gossip, tittle-tattle, objectification of others – whether dressed in those clothes, or masquerading as righteous indignation and ‘public interest’.
The situation the writer witnessed was one of false allegations, and profound injustice. Monica self-describes as having made a mistake, and regretting it. Of course, some of those forced to run the gauntlet of public opprobrium and shaming have, in truth, done harm to others from a place of intention. However – from a person-centred perspective – we damage because we are ourselves damaged. And from whatever perspective you choose to look – ethical, humane, practical – judgement, blame and shame are not helpful responses to human behaviour, let alone in the cause of titillation and ‘entertainment’. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
The toxicity of Nicolaus Mills’ ‘culture of humiliation’ does not depend on the ethical standing of the person in the eye of the storm. The issue is the harm done by cultural acceptance of bloodsports of this nature to all of us as people, and to our societies; the emotional numbing under-pinned and perpetuated by this phenomenon; the withering of our capacities for empathy and compassion; the disconnection and impoverishment to us all arising from this. As Henry James said:-
“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
As Monica says, ‘we all deserve compassion’. All of us. Whatever we have or haven’t done. And compassion serves both the giver and the receiver, it enhances and supports all of us – just as toxic shaming diminishes and dehumanizes both sides.
Here are some links:-
Good on you, Monica. Gratitude. All power to you in the taking back of your narrative, and the work you are doing in the world, for the benefit of everyone.
Let us be upstanding.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter