Monica Lewinsky and the power of an authentic voice

Last night Monica Lewinsky spoke to a small invited audience at the Connaught Hotel in London.  

She was talking to us a month after we helped her break a ten-year silence with a speech for Forbes in Philadelphia – a speech that earned her a standing ovation from an audience of more than one thousand people.

She began by reflecting on that experience, on what had happened since, and on her current feelings about a story that began when she was a 22 year-old White House intern who went on to have a love affair with her boss, the president of the United States.

A few things Monica said had particular impact. She talked, for example, about the extraordinary confluence of circumstances that placed her in the eye of a storm: an unconnected sexual harassment suit, a politically minded public prosecutor, a disloyal friend, and a battle for market share between the major US 24-hour news channels.

She reflected on being ‘patient zero’ – the first person to fall victim to an epidemic of cyber-bullying as traffic on the Internet began to outstrip the noisiness of the mainstream media. She talked about the pressure on her family, and on the legal threats she endured – including the threat of decades of jail – if she refused to wear a wire to inculpate Clinton (she refused).

One theme, above all, resonated for us. Monica remembered the moment when she moved, so joltingly, from ‘private person’ to ‘public humiliation’. This was a theft of identity, as she put it. It took away her voice with the suddenness of being unexpectedly punched in the stomach by a stranger in the street.

Monica’s real story, then, is how she has now recovered her sense of self, after years of feeling lost. As we saw last night, she has also found the means to tell her story – in a way that really connects with others.

The thing to take from this, we believe, is that authenticity depends first and foremost on how clear a sense we have of who we are and what we stand for. Without this, authentic self-expression becomes almost impossible, as does connecting meaningfully with other people. And, toxically, the more our bonds slip with others, the less certain our sense of self.

On the other hand, of course, the opposite is true.  Increased self-understanding leads to a more confident voice and more meaningful connections with others; this, in turn, builds our sense of who we are.

We believe we are at our best when we are being ourselves, and we are grateful to Monica for showing this in action so powerfully last night. As she embarks on a new phase in her life, and a new career as a public speaker and advocate for greater empathy online, her voice is one that richly deserves to be heard.