I Was Humiliated...
Posted on 26 March 2015
Something happened when I was 17 years old in high school back in Macau. It was undoubtedly one of the most defining moments that shaped my view of the world. I usually don’t like to bring up the past, especially if it seems negative. But today, I feel compelled to do so after watching the Monica Lewinsky's TED Talk where she bravely discussed the scale of public shaming she went through as a 22 year old. And how the current culture of constant shaming enabled globally by the Internet has gone out of control.
Now, what I went through was nothing compared to Ms. Lewinsky's. But it had made a significant shift in my psyche. I am writing part of this post as a dialog with my husband after watching Ms. Lewinsky’s talk.
Me: I actually felt very bad for Monica the entire time when the whole scandal broke. She was only 22 years old. It reminded me of a boycott against me by the entire class in school when I was 17.
My Husband: What happened?
Me: Well…, my classmates were not so cool about me dating this guy because he already had a girlfriend.
My Husband: So why did you (curiously)?
Me: I was 17! When you were 17, you make poor decision some times. But my classmates (including those whom I once considered friends), decided to pull this on me -
We were practicing for a group singing competition. The girl who was supposed to be the conductor was late. So my teacher told me to fill in. I walked up to the podium (uncomfortably), started raising my hands to signal for the temple. When we got to the part where everyone was supposed to sing, everyone was dead silent!
They were looking at me with cold and disapproved faces, including those I once considered as my friends. Friends with whom I had been hanging out and discussing about my relationship with this guy. I could tell from my friends that they were going alone with it because they didn’t want to stand out. The rest of class though, was doing it purposely to “show me a lesson”.
This moment of public shaming was seared into my brain forever. I can still recall all the details to date. And it was this moment that made my desire to study in the U.S. stronger than ever (Macau is very small – only 9 square miles. There was only one university back then. Everyone applied for college in Taiwan, Hong Kong or China. You inevitably will run into someone from your high school if you go to one of these place for college).
My Husband: Why do you think your classmates did that to you?
Me: I don’t know. People like judging. They cannot control it.
My Husband: So why do you think people judge?
So Why Do People Judge?
Me: I don’t know. But I guess it must give them pleasure, like those people who enjoy reading gossip magazine, or even initiate gossips.
It gives them pleasure because it takes their attention away from their own problems. By judging others, it also makes them feel “superior”. Who doesn’t like the feeling of being superior? It’s a primal instinct.
For me, if you have not walked in the other person’s shoes, you don’t know exactly what was going on in his/her life. It’s cruel to judge someone’s behavior according to your own moral standard and perspectives.
This act of humiliating that I received was just a collective amplification of the individual judgments. And this is why I think I felt bad for Ms. Lewinsky – I know what it felt like to be humiliated collectively. And I was not even on the newspapers. It was nothing like what Ms. Lewinsky had to go through. But the impact on me was big enough. So I could only imagine what it was like for her.
But if I said that out that I felt bad for her, someone would accuse me of agreeing with Ms. Lewinsky’s conduct. And that’s not the case. I felt bad for Hillary too. Having compassion for someone does not necessarily mean agreeing with someone’s behavior. A lot of people interpret having compassion and agreeing with one’s act interchangeably.
My Husband: Do you think that this is just in your culture? Or is that someone that everyone does?
Me: I think it’s something that everyone does regardless of cultures. People need to think that you are either with them or you are not. Otherwise, they cannot compute. People don’t like dealing with ambiguity.
So Why Can’t We Process Ambiguity?
My Husband: Why do you think that’s the case?
(BTW, I love having conversation like this with my husband. He doesn’t judge me. Maybe that’s why I ended up marrying him).
Me: Just a hypothesis, but I think that it’s an evolution thing – judging is fundamental to human survival. If your livelihood depends on food that you had to hunt for, you either have to kill something (for dinner) or you would be killed (by the animal). It’s very black or white (life or death), and it all needed to be figured out on a snap.
We don’t live in a cave anymore, but our “judgment” circuit has not caught up with it.
So why am I writing about this now?
Nowadays, I am very cautious about calling someone my friend if he/she appears judgmental or cannot seem to stop gossiping about other people (without reflecting on themselves). Fortunately, all of my friends are very considerate, open-minded and caring.
As I grow older, I have started thinking about how I want this world to be for my children and the next generation who will run this world. They will use the Internet and social media a lot more than we do now. What can I do to plant the seed to minimize the act and the suffering of public shaming, humiliation, and cyber bullying for them?
I don’t have the answers. But I know that the first thing that we can do as an individual is become aware of our own thoughts and “judgmental” moments.
It is only when we are aware of our thoughts will we be able to prevent it from manifesting into reality. And our children learn this from us.
As for my high school classmates, I have forgiven them long time ago. Only when you forgive someone will you be able to release yourself from that moment of history. That said, I will never forget. Because, when I look back at my incidence, it had only made me a stronger person and wiser person.
I hope my story will help those who are suffering from bullying and know that “this too shall pass”.
Hang in there! Stay strong! It may seem like that is the whole world to you when you are going through it. It certainly was to me. And I tolerated it for another year of high school, pulling off fake smiles to “friends” everyday before I flew to New York for college.
But you don’t need to cross the Pacific (or Atlantic) Ocean to get through this. Talk to your parents, teachers, and those who love you. They are there for you.
If you know someone who may benefit from this story, please share it. Even if this helps just one person, that’s one less person feeling alone.
Do you have a personal story to share? What would you like to see in order to remove bullying in our society? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
And yes, that little girl crying on the picture up top was me!
Thank you for reading this far!
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