My Facebook Feed reveals little sympathy for Monica Lewinsky. As she predicted in her speech, her words seem most to have ignited once dead embers into rants and retorts. So, is there really nothing of value in what Ms. Lewinsky said in her speech but more kindling to keep the fire going?
I asked our Youth Minister if he remembered the story of Monica Lewinsky in 1998. “Not really, I was 13.” I remember, but I am much older, a fact a round of golf with Brad reveals rather quickly.
The news of then President Bill Clinton’s tryst, (not) having sex with that woman, inflamed the Right. Seething with Clinton disgust, any story that would tarnish the Southern Baptist from Arkansas seemed welcome. The SBC rebuked the then President. But, every conservative wanted all the details and publicly. It seemed oddly titillating, a contradiction of sensibilities.
You may be sure hopes the story would stay buried took quite the hit when Ms. Lewinsky, that woman, recently spoke at Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Summit. What struck me is the response. No, I am not surprised. But, the comments I have read reveal the majority want only to remind the now older Ms. Lewinsky that she had the affair, that blame should fall to Bill Clinton for his abuse of position and power, and that she should, of all people, not be talking about cyber bullying since she has very little in common with Tyler Clementi.
Yes, what happened to Tyler is not exactly what happened to Ms. Lewinsky. And, what happened to Jennifer Lawrence is not exactly what happened to Ms. Lewinsky. To parse those particulars misses the point, egregiously.
If you don’t think Ms. Lewinsky experienced bullying in the aftermath of the sordid tale’s disclosure, then you may need remediation as to what bullying is by definition. Then President Clinton bullied Ms. Lewinsky with denials. The media hounded her. The political machine did such a great job vilifying Ms. Lewinsky that President Clinton’s antics seemed somehow expected by those who haunt the halls of power. The stress of the job requires relief, something piously out of step.
To make this about Ms. Lewinsky’s poor choices is to victimize her again and this time by lesser lights that the Drudge Report. And, I am not suggesting I agree that Drudge is responsible for bullying. The story was going to be reported. It was after all news, even if the President played it off famously.
What struck me as missed by the harsh criticisms calling for Ms. Lewinsky to return to her private life, away from a microphone, are the following. And, maybe more than these.
First, parents suffer with their children, no matter who is at fault and to what extent. The consequences our children face, even if they follow from poor decisions, haunt we parents. When there are reminders of the dark moments we journeyed with our children, we remember. When Ms. Lewinsky wondered why her mother was so upset over Tyler Clementi’s death, she learned parents suffer with their children.
Pastors, many of us, journey with those who suffer. When we do it is not uncommon to find that certain stories or experiences trigger the dark memories. Sometimes we travel with those who suffer directly. Other times it is with those who are left by some tragic event. But, make no mistake, there is little erasure even when those feelings have been repressed for years.
When Ms. Lewinsky became startled at how her mother responded a chord was struck. The depths of her own experience, regardless how closely or not it paralleled Tyler Clementi’s or any other, brought to mind the need something needs to stop. And, she is right no matter how she arrived at her revelation. Her mother was right. She had suffered too.
Second, bullying is bullying no matter the degree. Parent adolescents and you will quickly observe bullying. Pastor for more than 30 years and one easily recognizes bullying. And, the opposite is true, you may find pastors who bully. Pastoral ministry is my arena. But, bullying is not limited to religious experiences, religious institutions, or religious people. But, of all the people who should be aware and fight against bullying, no matter the victim, are those whose Leader describes love for neighbor as the expression of love for God.
I care not what those commenters who do not self-identify as Christians say about this story. But, it stirs me deeply, enough to consider this post, when I read self-identifying Christians take the occasion to illustrate the very attitude about which Ms. Lewinsky spoke. Victimize the victim is not the course for Jesus-followers.
Third, “mocking a soul in pain is a dreadful thing.” I read the transcript over and again. I did not find Ms. Lewinsky asking the audience to absolve her of participation in the affair. You may not like the way she referenced the matter. And, I imagine she had to be careful of libel were she to turn this into a riff on Former President Clinton. Her illustrations of bullying extended well beyond her reference to The Drudge Report. And, a riff on her former boss would have missed her point.
Sometimes one wonders if we all read for confirmation bias. If that is not the issue, then how did readers miss the Oscar Wilde quote, especially self-professing Christians. Here is how Ms. Lewinsky finishes her speech,
The problem is that I believe in the power of story. In the power of stories to inspire, comfort, educate and change things for the better: fictional stories, stories from history, news stories and yes, personal stories. I believe my story can help.
Help to do something to change the culture of humiliation we inhabit and that inhabits us. I had been publicly silent for a decade. But now, I must – as T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock said – disturb the universe.
Prufrock didn’t. I understand and empathize with him. But in the end, I’m no Prufrock. Bystander apathy is half the problem. I’d much rather be part of the solution. I don’t know which came first: the coarsening of the culture or the worsening of behavior.
Either way, what we need is a radical change in attitudes — on the internet, mobile platforms and in the society of which they are a part.
Actually, what we really need is a cultural revolution. Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit – an Empathy Crisis — and something tells me that matters a lot more to most of us.
Oscar Wilde wrote: “I have said that behind sorrow there is always sorrow. It were wiser still to say that behind sorrow there is always a soul. And to mock at a soul in pain is a dreadful thing.”
My feelings, exactly.
Thank you for your time.
Did you read it? “And to mock at a soul in pain is a dreadful thing.”
Yes, no matter how Ms. Lewinsky arrived at her cultural critique, she is spot on. There is an Empathy Crisis. It would take another post to unpack the ways our narcissistic culture breeds a lack of empathy but if you are familiar with Narcissus, then you are on your way to making the connection without another post.