Refuse to co-sign on people shaming you

With a click of a button, people's reputations and lives are destroyed by social media users whose sense of compassion and decency have been eroded by a culture of chasing scandals. / 123RF
With a click of a button, people's reputations and lives are destroyed by social media users whose sense of compassion and decency have been eroded by a culture of chasing scandals. / 123RF

The past few days have been a nightmare from which I am yet to fully awake. I went through something that no woman should ever go through - something that was emotionally, mentally, and psychologically haemorrhaging.

It is an experience I do not wish to elaborate on, for I am yet to fully make sense of it myself, save to say that my most intimate thoughts and photos were shared on social media by someone I was once in love with.

It was both hurtful and embarrassing, but this is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about something important that happened to me this past Sunday night.

I am not on Instagram - it is not a social network site I particularly like. But someone close to me sent me a video from Instagram that changed my life.

It was uploaded by Zanele Modiba - one of the most brilliant women this country has ever produced. Modiba was the joint winner of the inaugural The Apprentice South Africa when she was only 24 years old.

The video, titled "What winning The Apprentice South Africa taught me about shame" was part of her Alternative Sundays dialogues.

In the video, Zanele gives an account of how her joint winning of the show with another woman was characterised by shame.

She explains that while publicly she was being revered, privately, she and the other winner were fighting battles no one knew anything about - battles that were largely about the show's organisers wanting to subject them to shame by giving them less than what they deserved.

Because the show hadn't made provision for the possibility of joint winners, the prize catered for one person and the two women were forced to share it, eroding the sense of accomplishment that would have come with the perks of winning the prestigious show.

In uniting to fight for their rightful prizes, against the shame that they were being subjected to, Modiba learnt that there is power in refusing to allow oneself to be silenced and forced into a realm of passivity by shame.

To quote her profound words: "We refused to co-sign on people shaming us." These words beg for critical reflection beyond what transpired in my life. They demand to be reflected upon by everyone because they are powerful beyond measure.

The age of social media has introduced a culture where it has become extremely easy to shame people. With a click of a button, people's reputations and lives are destroyed by social media users whose sense of compassion and decency have been eroded by a culture of chasing scandals.

I watched, this past week, as people who do not know anything about me arrogate themselves the right to participate in my shaming. And for some time, I felt myself suffocating. Until I watched Modiba's video - and remembered that people can only shame us when we co-sign to it.

When people want to shame us, for whatever reason, we give them power when we opt to reside in shadows. Perpetrators of abuse know this too well.

Men who beat up women know that such women are crippled not just by fear, but by shame too. Bullies in class and in the workplace know their victims are crippled by shame. Abuse thrives in silence, and silence is enabled by shame.

Modiba has taught me that the most powerful response to fighting bullying, dehumanisation, and abuse, is to refuse to co-sign on being shamed. It is a lesson I will carry with me forever.

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