The Price of Shame

hour glass

The price of shame is seventeen years. Seventeen years is the interval between when Monica Lewinsky’s affair with former US president Bill Clinton became public and when she received a standing ovation at the end of her TED talk. The period following the disclosure was a time of intense disgrace for all parties involved, Mr and Mrs Clinton and Miss Lewinsky.

The media rehashed the stories to the point that the name Clinton is perhaps indelibly linked to Lewinsky and vice versa. Hilary Clinton’s political career, Bill Clinton’s public speaking and humanitarian work, and now Monica Lewinsky’s advocacy for victims of online humiliation and harassment, notwithstanding.

Seventeen is the number of years it took for Lewinsky to mount a public podium and declare, “it’s time . . . to stop living a life of opprobrium; and time to take back my narrative.” And so far, over 2.5 million people have viewed her talk.

Why did the TED audience rise and clap at the end of her talk? One reason may be her opening question, which hit home: “Can I see a show of hands of anyone here who didn’t make a mistake or do something they regretted at twenty-two?”

I am reminded of a meeting I attended where the preacher, speaking on the importance of a wholesome thought life, asked how many people would like the contents of the thinking they had done the previous day to be displayed on a billboard in Times Square. Every hand remained down, including that of the preacher.

She admits that she deeply regrets what happened. Whether the affair was for love, in love, through love, or about love, affix any preposition to love, and we still say wrong, wrong, wrong. However, by throwing stones at her, the ensuing spectacle of derision that has continued, with radioactive endurance, for a decade and a half, have we become like the people who brought only the woman caught in adultery to Jesus?

As I watched Bill Clinton reinvent himself over the years and become to my mind, charismatic Bill, the notion that it is a man’s world concretized. Yes, I can only imagine the PR machine behind such a powerful figure. But we live in a male-dominated culture, a patriarchy, where men are hailed for sexual adventures and women are shamed.

The positive press Lewinsky has recently received indicates that perhaps after seventeen years, we have become magnanimous—okay Monica; you may go and sin no more. But being human, suspicious, and armed with conspiracy theories, we point two fingers to our eyes and then at her: We. Are. Watching. You.

Talking openly about shame, especially the modern cyber variety, how it can cripple, destroy, and lead to suicide is good. Broadening the conversation to include honour killings that assuage family shame is welcome. We do well to adopt a more empathetic response to public shaming.

And yet humiliation, a synonym for shame, in small doses, can be a wake-up call. A few years ago, I finally scored an interview that I’d been angling for. It couldn’t have been scheduled at a worse time. Exhausted from travelling, I slept with my notes (which I was reviewing for the first time), on my chest Sunday night. In the flurry of Monday morning, I had no time to revise and little time to get to the venue.

I hoped to bluff my way through. I could not. I read the impatience in the interviewer’s hands as he flicked through my résumé while listening to me. I perceived his thoughts, rubbish; I cannot believe she came highly recommended. From that moment on, the ability to think on my feet deserted me. Shame made me forget things I knew.

The memory of that humiliation goads me to over prepare for interviews. I have other memories, secrets, too painful to share, which still stain my cheeks red. My shame has filled my compassion vaults, so now I have compassion to spare for others.

Although you and I haven’t endured public humiliation, we are acquainted with shame and its incapacitating effect. There exists the looming danger of a single story if we remain paralyzed. Not of shame, but of regret being our single story.

I think that to change any narrative from shame to glory, we must do time. No, not seventeen years, but a season away from the ‘limelight,’ burrowing underground to learn lessons from humiliation. In time, we may re-emerge with fresh purpose and tell inspiring new stories.


©Timi Yeseibo 2015


Photo credit: Nile/


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52 thoughts on “The Price of Shame

  1. A Poem I wrote about 35 years ago sums it up for me:
    I hunger for the grace to be reborn,
    to take my hurts and failures
    and mulch them into new beginnings;
    to turn them into fertile fields
    of understanding and compassion.
    To experience once more-the greening out
    of the frozen landscapes in my life
    and gain a rich new Spring perspective
    that builds on leaves and logs of yesteryears
    to bring forth the ripe, good fruit of love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your lovely poem, Eileen. My favourite part:

      to take my hurts and failures
      and mulch them into new beginnings;
      to turn them into fertile fields
      of understanding and compassion.


  2. Timi, I may not win any popularity polls, but I feel that Monica was one who could have changed her fate a bit. I am one who wished Monica would have washed her skirt and forgotten about her indiscretion. It would have helped the country here a lot. I know my mother once told me that of all of the presidents only about a handful were faithful, she could rattle off names and how their indiscretions went, including Pres. Reagan being with his makeup girl, Nancy, while married to Jane Wyman. I could not believe the ones who I thought seemed like fuddy duds, Eisenhower or Truman, cannot remember which ones, but ones who looked so respectable.
    Anyway, it is sad that humans are not always the best people, but I would never hold it against Clinton nor Kennedy, so why would I hold it against MLK, Jr. or other legends?
    Monica was not in the limelight until she put herself there, I feel people forgot about her and now she is back trying to help us think of her again.
    There are so many other people whose problems and ‘crosses they bear’ are so much harder and challenging than hers….
    I always forgive both men and women, but tell my friends who are over fifty, karma may bite them in the butt, if they aren’t careful! I am one who would rather read that she wrote a children’s book or something totally off the subject of forgiveness, just being herself. If she liked politics, she should have joined local counsels or business or chamber of commerces. She could have become anything she wanted, don’t you think? She has been like the rest of us, doing the best she can, I assume.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Robin. This shouldn’t be about winning popularity contests, just sharing our hearts or opinions. 🙂

      I guess there are many things we realize we could have done differently after the fact, but we can’t turn back the hands of the clock.

      One part of your comment stands out to me:
      “I feel people forgot about her and now she is back trying to help us think of her again.”

      I don’t claim to know her motive for ‘coming out’ beyond what she says. As I pondered over this, the questions I asked myself were, why should she lead a ‘quiet’ life in the backwoods if this is what she wants to do? Why should she let her past continue to chase her future, especially as she’s been fortunate to have been offered a platform to forge a new future?

      I may be wrong, but after watching her TED talk, I think she wants us to think of her in the light of her new narrative. Credibility once lost is a hard thing to recover ….

      And this:
      “. . . ‘crosses they bear’ are so much harder and challenging than hers….”
      Pain is pain. I like to think that the fact that your pain is worse than mine doesn’t invalidate mine …. at least it doesn’t have to.

      Robin, you assume she’s doing the best she can. That may be so. I wish her good speed.

      Thanks again for sharing! I appreciate it.


    2. Hi Robin. I enjoyed reading your response to Timi’s post about Monica Lewinsky. You have your opinion about Monica and you are certainly entitled to it. May I offer a different view? Monica did not want to thrust herself into the limelight like she did. She was manipulated and tricked by a group of unholy conspirators hellbent on bringing down a popular sitting president. This wasn’t a classical assassination but a character assassination by a group of power hungry senators who hated Bill Clinton. Monica is not to be blamed for her indiscretion in my humble opinion. She just got caught up a in a maelstrom of political skulduggery. There but for the grace of God go I.


      1. I don’t care what she did to Clinton but I do think if I did such a thing at 22, I would have never admitted it not kept the skirt. I am not at all judging her nor excusing Clinton. Thank you for explaining how you and Timi think. I hope Monica Lewinsky may have a good life and honestly was just saying I remember my twenties and would never done the court things nor kept a skirt. I guess no one hear understands what I am trying to say. I would out or caring and respect for Myself not done the reporting and admitting. No worries.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Been a while since I’ve been here. Thank God you’re still here, Timi.

    This post actually makes me a bit angry and sad at the same time. You do great at calling up emotion, Timi. It’s annoying to hear people say things like, “which of us has not made a mistake…?” At least, I find it annoying. We all make mistakes and should be compassionate and quick to help one another up when we fall. But what’s with heading into something obviously wrong just because you can say one day, “you’ve no right to judge me because you make mistakes too.” Is it still a mistake when it’s a deliberate, willful act? Should we all shoot ourselves in the head because we all die anyway?

    I can relate with everything you said, Timi. I know shame pretty well. I am a pretty visible and vocal person so I do know that place quite well. Been there a lot. And I think it’s a good thing that it exists. Because it does we can keep the world sane. If we aren’t ashamed to do some things, morality would be utterly meaningless. The fact that we want to be liked and accepted makes us want to do things that are liked and accepted. Of course not everything good is liked and accepted and not everything bad is hated and unaccepted. Still.

    However, if shame helps us keep within moral boundaries and eliminate unwanted behaviors, forgiveness is how the world stays alive. Someone asked me once what I would do if as a pastor I had to deal with an unmarried pregnant worship leader. My answer was that I’d have to balance my reaction between helping her through a difficulty and eliminating any communication of endorsement of her situation. I think we are too extreme. In the past we put too much emphasis on condemnation and punishment. Today, we put too much on compassion. If we don’t categorically denounce bad things, we will, perhaps unwittingly, endorse them and thus encourage their reproduction. But if we don’t do our best to help those who have bought themselves grief through some bad behavior we will seed rebellion and unrepentance in people’s hearts.


    1. Hi Odii, lol, I’m still here. 🙂
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your kind words about how my writing provokes an emotive response. I appreciate it.

      @It’s annoying to hear people say things like, “which of us has not made a mistake…?”
      You know, when I listened to her talk, I wondered if she was familiar with parts of the Biblical narrative because that statement seemed to have its origin in the one made by The Messiah:

      “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

      @Is it still a mistake when it’s a deliberate, willful act?
      Interesting point to consider. The Biblical narrative says that … while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. In this context, I have not found a distinction between willful, unintentional, or any other kind of mistake or sin.

      In her Vanity Fair interview, she says she deeply regrets her actions. That statement is open to myriad interpretations, but I’m not the one looking for her ‘sorry’ Although this story became global, there are 3 primary parties, Mr & Mrs Clinton and Miss Lewinsky.

      ‘Shame’ can play a role in preventing people from crossing boundaries as you mention ….. In her TED talk, she focuses on the kind of humiliation that can lead to death …. virtually devoid of compassion.

      As one who has benefited from outlandish acts of mercy, as one who has known what it is to struggle, as one who doesn’t know the inner workings of another’s heart (is it willful sin or a proclivity to some action), when I read that mercy triumphs over judgement, I am glad.

      I am happy to give someone who seems to have reflected over their actions and taken responsibility for them, another shot.

      Odii, you mention balanced reaction, that’s what we hope for. May God help us all.

      Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is true that we have 3 lives. But we need to have good reasons that are thought out over time to change something from private to public, etc.

    Great post, timi. Last night I was surprised that a good friend revealed for the lst time how her father died over 14 yrs. ago but what kept her from revealing to anyone else outside family, was his death was a result of medical mistreatment…


    1. Aw, did they hide the information because they were ashamed?
      Sometimes healing comes when we air things out in the right setting and with the right people.

      As an aside, I saw this on Facebook:
      Remember when people had diaries and got mad when someone read them? Now they put everything online and get mad when people don’t.

      It was meant to be funny, but I guess we can reflect over our 3 lives . . .
      Thanks Jean!


  5. This IS one of your best posts, Timi, perhaps because it arose from a particularly intense com/passion and because we can all relate. The things you have addressed – the contents of our thought luggage, for one – are why I am ashamed to even call myself a Christian. But that I do because the honor does not depend on my performance. As for Lewinsky, it’s interesting how the great political clout that made for an unforgettable spectacle of shame for the Clintons helped propel them to quieter pastures over time. ML had no such props and had to face her own shame, her own narrative head on (in reviving and discussing it) to dare the world to hold her to an unforgivable past. Wonderful job.


    1. Thank you so much Diana.
      @ . . . the honor does not depend on my performance, such a humbling reality. I need to remember this for myself and in my dealing with others.

      ML has been given an incredible platform and I think she is well within her rights to “dare the world to hold her to an unforgivable past.”


  6. The words of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret,” ring true and they are the perfect way to begin an essay on the price of shame.
    I lived through the events of 1998 in real time and I can remember being horrified by the experience. It was as a bystander to be sure, but I could not believe my eyes and ears as the sordid details of the affair between the White House intern and the President of the United States unfolded in the media everyday.
    I will never forgive the Republicans for impeaching a popular President, who some say was one of the best in American history, for a personal indiscretion, just because they hated him so. That was the reason for the impeachment. Hatred.
    Monica Lewinsky was betrayed by a so called friend and sacrificed upon the alter on hypocrisy for the sake of political expediency. I remember feeling empathy and compassion for Monica back then and anger towards those who humiliated her.
    As I listened to her TED Talk I was impressed with her brilliance as she discussed the important topics of cyber bullying, slut shaming, and honor killings. There is nothing worse than the sting of public humiliation or private shame. Kudos to Monica for standing up and taking back her narrative. And kudos to you Timi, for posting this timely and well written essay.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you Benn. Indeed, it was like a witch-hunt and it was cruel. Bill and Monica’s poor choices gave their ‘haters’ something to work with. That Clinton initially lied about the affair did not help matters. But they are human and fallible as are we.

      From a public perspective, it appeared that Monica could not move on or is it, was not allowed to move on. Like you, I am glad that she’s finally said, “Enough already!”

      Talking about the media, freedom and responsibility need to intersect more often. It would be nice if compassion undergirded everything, but perhaps that’s hoping for too much.

      For example, Justine Sacco made a mistake on Twitter. Sam Biddle amplified it. Reflecting one year later, he writes, “Twitter disasters are the quickest source of outrage, and outrage is traffic.”

      Writing about meeting his ‘victim’ face to face, he says, “I’d managed to half-convince myself what I’d done was right, but then I saw her face. How often do you get to say you’re sorry to someone you ruined on the internet?”

      Articles worth pondering if you’ve got time:

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the links on Justine Sacco. I just now got a chance to read the articles. I remember when this incident occurred. One of those life lessons learned the hard way. Her insensitive joke cost her dearly. The power of the internet is fearful.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Wonderful piece. The message it passes is key but I love the way you told it; it had a way of driving your point home. I’ve never been bashed for something shameful I did, but I believe burrowing underground and reflecting is one way to go about it.

    Nice one. I’m glad I came across your blog, Atleast something good came out of this insomnia


  8. “I have other memories, secrets, too painful to share, which still stain my cheeks red. My shame has filled my compassion vaults, so now I have compassion to spare for others.”

    This resonates.


  9. Her “comeback” has also struck a chord with me and I’ve been intending to write about this. I wonder if part of the shift in perception also has been that the world is changing. If her affair with Bill had happened today there would be a lot more people standing up for her rather than vilifying her. The big shame to me is that she has been cast out for nearly 20 decades for sleeping with someone who happened to be the president. Had she slept with her married boss at a mcdonald’s for instance- there wouldn’t have been a scandal. Even Hilary and Bill in their marriage have managed to move on yet society had held Monica in her place in history for years. love the observation how even shame on a private scale can be debilitating. Compassion is needed indeed.


    1. I smiled at this, at the image in my head: “….society . . . held Monica in her place in history for years.” 🙂 😦

      The ‘witch-hunting’ made it bigger than it needed to be, I think. Attitudes are changing but I guess the bigger the fish, the bigger the headline. I admire her ‘comeback’ courage; shame paralyzes. She had a few false starts before now, but seems to have found her calling, if you will.

      Diahann, I’m looking forward to reading your take.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Brilliant post! I also was touched by the talk and the need to talk about shame. And Nancy told me about your post, so I had to pop by. I’m glad she helped me find your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve read most of your writing, and I find your writing both brilliant prose, and intellectually stimulating. This, however, is to my mind the best piece you’ve written. There’s a depth that is hidden, much like a false bottom in a spy’s suitcase, that you’d have to look carefully to find. But, so I don’t end up writing a dissertation myself, let me highlight two phrases that speak to my heart profoundly. First, I can relate to the following:

    “My shame has filled my compassion vaults, so now I have compassion to spare for others.”

    And second, as someone with a deep and abiding passion for the notion that stories shape the ethos of any community or culture, the following quote deserves a standing ovation:

    “I think that to change any narrative from shame to glory, we must do time. No, not seventeen years, but a season away from the ‘limelight,’ burrowing underground to learn lessons from humiliation. In time, we may re-emerge with fresh purpose and tell inspiring new stories.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Joseph for your very kind words.
      The things that affect us- love, joy, fear, hate, etc- are universal. As a society, our stories are so interconnected. Since you’re one for story telling, perhap’s this 5 minute video may interest you.


    2. Nancy told me about your article, and I’m glad she did.

      Unlike Joseph, this is my first time to visit your blog, but I have exactly the same response to your article that he did. The first thing that stopped me cold was your description of your interview humiliation and then your confession of other secrets, “too painful to share,” followed by the phrase Joseph quotes: “My shame has filled my compassion vaults, so now I have compassion to spare for others.” As we mature, I hope we all can fill our compassion vaults.

      And, again like Joseph, I was struck by your wise insight about doing time to learn lessons from humiliation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If we won’t listen to our inner voice and exercise good judgement, disgrace may await. It seems unkind though that after we have made amends or even while we are still struggling, others capitalize on our weakness to make headlines.

        Gabriel Garcia Marquez mentions our secret life. If we remember this, maybe we will be more inclined to dole out compassion on others.

        In your post, Easter Thoughts on New Life and Monica Lewinsky, you write:

        “It took only three days for Jesus to rise from the dead. We ordinary human beings take much, much longer to rise up—to recover from cancer or alcoholism, from a job loss, divorce, a death in the family… or shame.”

        By sharing your personal resurrection from grief to un-imagined happiness, you give us one more story of hope and I like to think that we can’t have too much hope.

        Thanks Nicki for being here and thanks Nancy for connecting us 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Monica’s TED talk was amazing and I’m very glad someone decide to blog about it. I only shared it on social media, but I hope many more views take a good look at her words and think about how we contribute to public humilation or shaming. We love to gossip and well, that is just another way to cut someone down. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Almost 3 million views when I last checked. In a sense, we are all guilty of casting stones, so human we are. Her talk and others like it appeal to the better part of our nature. But vision leaks and we need frequent reminding. Thanks Lani.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Nice one again Timi. Indeed its a man’s world, the media and technology doesn’t always help! Thank God she can finally hold her head up against all odds!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It takes courage to attempt to rewrite your story ….
      Conspiracy theories and naysayers abound. Who knows? Time will tell ….
      But for daring to enter the ‘lime light’ again, you’ve got to hand it to her.


      1. You know it takes time in there to realize that darling! Sharing now in all honesty is my contribution to humanity. It aboves all completes your own healing and enables you to Love yourself perfectly amidst your imperfections. Happy Easter my sister

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Like a water-wheel, filling and emptying its buckets over and over as it turns, we empty out who we were, to become more fully who we are. If we hang on to Ego concerns (like guilt and shame), our buckets do not empty completely . . . leaving less room for growth.

    BTW: I can think of a number of men who have NOT been hailed for sexual misadventures:

    Hugh Grant
    Tiger Woods
    Arnold Schwarzenegger
    Anthony Weiner
    Bill Cosby

    And while their names spring to mind ~ their “partners in crime” are nowhere in my memory banks. “Times they are a changing.”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Wise words Nancy, not a day’s job to implement though.

      And yes, times are changing. She did get a standing ovation. When I talk with younger people, they wonder what all the fuss was about. Thanks for broadening the conversation and giving us much to chew.


      1. Monica’s talk struck a chord with several of the bloggers I follow. Nicki (Chen) wrote about Monica’s resurrection in her Easter post:

        And Linda (El Space) echoed the TED talk theme in her post this morning:

        Thought you might be interested in both. And I’ll share your link with them.

        Liked by 2 people

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