Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk and The Scarlet Letter

This may be the best TED talk I’ve ever heard—and that’s not an exaggeration…

Between 1995-1997, Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern, had an affair with President Bill Clinton. When the relationship became public, Monica Lewinsky was made the center of a political scandal that rocked the United States.

Some people have very negative opinions about Monica Lewinsky, but given the potency of her message I politely ask you to suspend those opinions.

In a recent TED talk, Monica admits to making mistakes but then takes a stand against cyberbullying. Drawing upon her own experiences in the 1990s, she makes a powerful case against public shaming and the people who capitalize from the pain of others.

The whole speech reminded me of my favorite book, The Scarlet Letter. Set in seventeenth century Puritan Boston, a young woman—Hester Prynne—is found guilty of adultery, the act of which produced a child.

As punishment, Hester is made an object of public shame and told to wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ for the rest of her life. The father of Hester’s child is undiscovered and subsequently unpunished. In fact, throughout the book he is reverenced and revered in their community.

But one of the reasons I like The Scarlet Letter so much is because of Hester’s ability to transform her “mark of shame,” into something that helps others. Outcast from society, Hester learns poignant lessons about human suffering and labors to alleviate the pain of those who are struggling.

At one point in the book, the people she is helping begin to believe that the scarlet letter actually stands for ‘Able’ or ‘Angel.’

If you hadn’t already noticed, one of the main themes of my life has been Keep Moving Forward. I am constantly inspired by people that can endure challenging times and turn their most difficult experiences into something that can help others.

Listening to Monica Lewinsky’s speech was very inspiring. Truthfully, I had never considered the amount of suffering she must have endured these past ten years. I marvel at how she is taking something that was so painful for her and using it to bring peace to others. When asked why is she doing this, Monica replied:

“Because it’s time—time to stop tip-toeing around my past, time to stop living a life of opprobrium, and time to take back my narrative. It’s also not just about saving myself. 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.”

One of the most telling parts about her talk was the very end: When Monica concluded her speech she immediately walked off the stage, without waiting for applause. Given all of the negative experiences she’s had with the media, I’m not sure if she’s used to applause. But as she stepped back on the stage she was greeted with a standing ovation.

And after all that she’s been through (and the message she stands for), I think she deserves a standing ovation.

Please watch her talk and let me know what you think in the comments below.

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