In October 2014, sixteen years since her affair with the then US President Bill Clinton broke out to public—a scandal that swept her overnight “from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one worldwide”—Monica Lewinsky made her first major public speech at the Forbes Under 30 Summit held in Philadelphia.
“My name is Monica Lewinsky,” she began, smiling nervously before a group of over a thousand young and talented audience. It was a perfect start to break a decade of silence. An opening line that was both profound and symbolic.
Here is why?
Hers is a name which had been branded online as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo. Hers is a name that had been subjected to slut-shaming, online harassment, and cyberbullying. Despite this, “Monica Lewinsky” is a name she chose to continue to carry, to embrace, and to be identified with. All against the advice and better judgment of people close to her.
“I am still Monica Lewinsky,” she said. But that was more than an introduction of one’s self to a group of strangers; it was more than just a way of giving a name to a face. Instead, it was a subtle way of owning up her past and embracing herself. It was no less than an admission of her past mistakes, of her own frailty, and lapse of judgment.
“I admit I made mistakes . . .” she would say five months later at a TED Conference in March 2015. “Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake deeply.” It was a well-received talk which earned her a standing ovation from the audience.
Watch: The price of shame
How’s it possible? She was empowered by her vulnerability. Yes, there’s power derived in being vulnerable.
Here are some of the few reasons why?
Pain and mistake are a universal human experience.
Mistakes and pain are a universal experience. We all have been hurt. We all have fallen short in our judgment. Maybe, fell in love with the wrong person. Made stupid decisions. Took the wrong turn at some point along the way.
Admitting our mistakes and pains with humility would make other people resonate with us, feel us, and understand us. Human as we are, our hearts and mind often go out to those who humbly admit their shortcomings and confess their sins, we forgive those who seek for understanding and forgiveness, and we sigh to those who cry out in pain.
We’ve been there. We all know the pain, the shame, the embarrassment, and the struggles. So to a humble and penitent person, we empathize and not condemn.
Suffering makes us in touch with our human limitation, and mistakes can teach us valuable lessons.
The greatest lessons in life usually come with a great price. This price often involves suffering and pain. Often, the greater the pain is, the greater the lesson it brings. And sometimes, life knocks you down pretty real hard just to remind you of your vulnerability and limitation.
But when you come out with an open heart and good intentions, and when you used your personal experiences of pain and suffering in order to help other people alleviate their own sufferings, you cease to become the “suffering victim”.
Instead, you gain a new sense of identity. By moving past beyond your own frailties and by not allowing them to get hold of you or define your future, your life gains a new sense of meaning and purpose. Not the least of it, your life becomes a lesson and a source of inspiration to others.
We love sob stories.
Part of our being human is our fascination with the sordid and solemn aspects of life. Be it real or fictional, we cry and sigh at other people’s pain. We abhor the unjust and the arrogance; we admire the lowly, the suffering, and the victim.
We, too, revel in narrating our own woes. Even in the adverse situation, when we’re not certain whether we could gain sympathy or mockery, we sigh ceaselessly hoping that the world takes notice of our pain and cry with us.
And to people who share us their own vulnerabilities, we are slow to condemn but quick to extend a hand, lend them our ears, offer them our shoulders, and we open them the doors of our hearts.
Our human limitations propel connection and move people to a concerted action.
We are not an island unto ourselves. We are not self-sufficient. And we are perfectly imperfect.
Our limited capacity to do and accomplish everything with our own effort pushes us to look beyond ourselves. And out there, there are plenty of people and organizations willing to lend a hand and walk the extra miles with you, only if you’re willing to be led, to lower your defenses, and if your seek to understand and be understood.
The bottom line is no one is perfect. Our vulnerability is part of our human reality. But there’s beauty and power if we’re open and honest enough in recognizing our weaknesses and limitations. We all fail once in a while. But we can learn from our mistakes and use them to empower ourselves and others.
Disclaimer: Photos are not mine.