An Unlikely Source of Inspiration

By Carolyn Patterson on

“Brazilians”

While walking my dogs, I often listen to the radio. Tonight there was a surprising speaker on the TED Radio Hour, a show normally devoted to scientific breakthroughs and the nature of reality/the reality of nature. Tonight I listened to an episode about resilience, which I misheard at first as “Brazilians.” It turned out the Carnival image that jumped to my mind was not far off the experience of the speaker, Monica Lewinski. (Her segment starts at 34:40.)

Ms. Lewinski, much older and wiser than the 24 year old intern in 1998 who made a big, and a very immature, mistake, described the abject shame and humiliation she experienced when her mistake became a public event. Her selfish belief that having an affair with a very public person was “private” was exposed in an unprecedented way with the advent of news being shared on the Internet. She was called names – repeatedly, incessantly. She was reminded daily, hourly, of her mistake. Other private moments, such as catty phone conversations which she did not know were being recorded, became part of the public record. She instantly lost her job, her credibility, and even her identity.

One quote resonated with another concept, “It Gets Better,” an organization that helps LBGTQ youths get through very difficult high school and early adulthood, where they endure a great amount of shame, to the point where many contemplate suicide.

While a presidential adulteress and LBGTQ kids may not be what you would think are inspirational, what they have in common is being outcasts, being “different,” and struggling with deciding if it’s worth the pain and the insecurity. That is something that I think most people with learning differences can relate to.

Hopefully, they can also relate to life getting better, much, much better, as they mature and develop their own agency. To quote Ms. Lewinsky, the main way she was able to re-find purpose in her life was the passage of time, and having many more experiences, to put what happened to her into perspective. The other major help was her family, her close friends, and the professional therapists she worked with to help her feel safe, valued and loved in the face of extreme, voluminous hatred.

Yes, people with learning differences are labeled, and often scarred by those labels. Most people have the difficulty for life, but adapt and apply compensatory strategies — including hiring people to help them with areas of weakness. They see that how they performed in school does not have to define their adult lives as creative, productive people. They learn that their “awkward” way of dealing with functional routines can be left behind as they forge their own way, pioneers of self-discovery.

I had not had sympathy for Ms. Lewinsky before I heard this TED talk. I saw her shallow representation portrayed in the media as a selfish, young woman who “got what she deserved.” Yet she was punished so harshly — and she punished herself so harshly — that I concluded that the punishment wildly outweighed the crime.

Let’s help our kids with learning differences believe that they will experience MORE than the pain of feeling stupid, feeling incapable, insecure, and burdensome. They will expand into their lives, bringing their unique perspectives and willingness to participate. It Gets Better; we are all getting better!