Originally published by The Good Men Project
Have you seen the Britt McHenry video? It’s gone viral, and like the millions of shares and comments suggest, this young woman’s poised and piercing delivery of cruel insults has made our collective blood boil. I’m angry that Ms. McHenry stooped to this level annihilating another person. On the other hand, as a human being with emotions myself, I’ve left my loved ones in tatters due to my sharp tongue on shameful occasion. Most importantly, what this video speaks to is two modern day phenomena gone viral, using social media as a weapon for public shaming and how reality TV is shaping entitled and ruthless behavior.
The tow truck company’s bullying video pulls for an old lady rant complete with “kids these days.” But rather than jump on the indignant public shaming band wagon of “I’d never,” I think it’s more productive to reflect on how did she get to that point and what does this mean for the rest of us? Is Britt showing us the behavior of a uniquely entitled celebrity who has lost her social skills due to too much pampering and exaggerated accolades? Or is she mimicking a practiced script too frequently performed by reality TV stars, deliciously sprinkled with venom for the greedy consumption of a morally lazy viewing audience?
First I feel compelled to confess that, like all of us, I am not a perfect person. I still joke about the day I lost my s$%t and uttered the arrogant words, “I’ll sue you’re a$$” to a moving company owner. I swear I actually said that. And to this day I blush at the memory, a blush that squeezes my heart in shame and resulted in a valuable personal lesson about crisis management.
The short story is that on a stressful day in my privileged life a moving company had a truck full of our worldly belongings parked at the bottom of our steep driveway, unable to proceed due to inadequate bumper clearance. With a baby on my hip and the exhaustion of a mother spearheading a big move with not enough help, I was on the phone with the owner. With an almost amused voice, the guy was telling me that, despite his personal recommendation his trucks could clear the driveway and a written quote, I was going to have to pay more money for more trucks and time-and-a-half for his guys in order to complete the move. If I refused to cough up the cash immediately they were going to park the full truck in a warehouse until I ponied up the cash. Believe me, I was outraged. I pleaded then I threatened. Ultimately, after my totally impotent sue threat, I hung up in tears and my husband tag-teamed the event and worked it through to a resolution.
Even ten years later I think I was justified for being enraged. The poor moving guys walking on eggshells in my living room sheepishly apologized, saying, “Mam I’m so sorry. I don’t blame you a bit.” And thank goodness I was kind to them. Ultimately we paid the extra money and our stuff got delivered and that was the end of that. But my point is not to tell you my story of woe, but rather to say that we all know what it’s like to feel helpless and trapped. And these moments test us like no others. These moments offer us the opportunity to rise to our best or dive into to our worst.
Perhaps that is where Ms. McHenry was that day. Or, maybe she’s a monster on frequent occasion. But at what point does our bandwagon shaming go too far? I think what we are all responding to is the Kim Kardassian-like poise with which she lands her demeaning elitist insults. It reeks of practice and shamelessness. Please somebody tell me that she was mortified by herself the second she walked out that door. That her apology had personal substance rather than the flippant result of hired PR. As a champion of the victimized and, on occasion, the predators in my psychology practice, I can tell you that anything’s possible. But what can each of us take from this?
I personally intend to have a discussion with my little ones at home. I’m going to tell them about Ms. McHenry and ask my kids what they think about the incident. Should we compassionately forgive her for being a venomous bully or should we carry on like an unraveled lynch mob? Like most life lessons, I suppose moderation is in order. Perhaps we should consider that she was in a terribly stressful situation where she felt trapped and out of control. That she probably has little experience with true hardship, and she has a ton of learning to do before she is capable of Martin Luther King-level understanding and kindness. That humbling experiences like these are the foundation of true wisdom, and that usually only comes with maturity and experience. One day Britt will realize that it wasn’t her brain, teeth, or college degree that is responsible for her success, it was the kindness of others.
Last weekend my 13 year old got her first treat to a nice hotel and room service alone with her Mom for a volleyball tournament. I was super excited to give this gift to her and asked, “Honey, anything else you want from the menu.” My feisty, bright, clever daughter looked at me with mischief in her eye and with her best arrogant accent she drawled, “Mummy, I want a pony.” We both burst into giggles at her clever observation and per her usual, she astounded me with her insight.
In conclusion, it turns out that learning can only take place through hardship and effort. Failure rather than achievement is when we start to grow. I propose to the reader that we each thoughtfully reflect upon our willingness to gleefully join the shame mob. Instead, perhaps we could each take a sacred moment out everyday to be grateful for what we have and try to share that bounty with those whom are the easiest to ignore. Because causing a joy riot from connection at a stressful moment will feed the soul, while a hurtful tantrum will kill it slowly.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetYourKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
Video screen capture