In her TED talk, Monica Lewinsky talks about a mistake she made when she was 22 years of falling in love with her boss, it just happened that her boss was POTUS. She was shamed, called names, ridiculed.
No one reading this article will want to claim that they have never made a mistake when they were 22 years.
Shaming has devastating consequences, people who don’t have strong support systems pay the highest price by taking their lives because they can’t take the pressure anymore.
When I was curating Nijel Amos in preparation for his TEDxGaborone in 2015, the 800 meter sensational sprinter from Botswana, he shared a story of how when he was injured and couldn’t take part in a major competition, he used music as a way to keep his mind at ease, he bought music equipment and started DJ-ing. The media in Botswana started reporting that Nijel has lost his mojo, he has lost his discipline and is now a mere disco DJ. The newspapers were trying to shame him, even writing stories that he was caught driving without a license when in fact he had a license.
For nearly two decades now, we have slowly been sowing the seeds of shame and public humiliation in our cultural soil, both on- and offline. Gossip websites, paparazzi, reality programming, politics, news outlets and sometimes hackers all traffic in shame. It is led to desensitization and a permissive environment online which lends itself to trolling, invasion of privacy, and cyberbullying. This shift has created what Professor Nicolaus Mills calls a culture of humiliation.
Monica says in her TED talk:
“This invasion and shaming of others is a raw material, efficiently and ruthlessly mined, packaged and sold at a profit. A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry.”
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report of 2015, South African entrepreneurs’s fear of failure in 2015 ranked at 30.3 while the African region average is 27.2. Our potential entrepreneurs’s fear of failure is higher than our other African counterparts.
Fear of failure can be influenced by intrinsic personality traits, as well as by societal norms and regulations. For the risk-averse person, the downside risk of failure often outweighs the most promising opportunities, while in some countries the legal and social ramifications of business failure may act as a strong deterrent, reducing the pool of potential entrepreneurs.
People are afraid to start things, because if they fail, they will be ridiculed and shamed.
Over and over again public shaming has reached peak proportions. We have newspapers that shame people as Moegoes of the Week, weekly TV shows that calls people Losers of the Week. We have newspapers that thrive on gossip and shaming. On social media, we see shaming happen daily on twitter.
Politicians use shaming as a game to outmaneuver each other. You talk truth to power, they use your dark secret [like you don’t have a qualification you claim to have] to shame you.
Even politicians themselves know that they each have skeleton-nyana (small secrets) in their closet that they can use to shame you when you don’t tow the line. Election times is where the shame market thrives.
We live in a society where scandals and shaming are tools to use for gain.
Potential entrepreneurs, innovators and other talented people fear to go out on a limb and do stuff because they are afraid of being shamed when they fail.
The stress that comes from merely anticipating the feeling of embarrassment and shamed is enough to cause many people to hold back, to sit quietly, to go along with the flow and not try anything new.
And this anticipation rarely leads to much of anything positive.
We have people around us, at work, church, social groups who are bullies and use shame as a tool humiliate others into submission.
Social media has connected people in unimaginable ways, joining lost siblings, saving lives, launching revolutions, but the darkness of it is: cyberbullying, and slut-shaming.
Every day online, people, especially young people who are not developmentally equipped to handle this, are abused and humiliated that they can’t imagine living to the next day, and some, tragically, don’t, and there is nothing virtual about that.
To conclude her TED talk Monica says:
“Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing: You can survive it. I know it’s hard. It may not be painless, quick or easy, but you can insist on a different ending to your story. Have compassion for yourself. We all deserve compassion, and to live both online and off in a more compassionate world.”
Start that business, that project, test that idea, it might not work the first time, but try again.
When you make a mistake, learn from it and forgive yourself but never stop trying to be your best.
PS: Nijel Amos has since recovered from this injury and continues to win medals. He will be taking part in the Olympics in Rio, wish him all the best. Monica Lewinsky has started to gain her public life and regain her narrative. She got a standing ovation from her TED talk. It takes a good support structure and resolute mental strength to overcome shaming.