Meghan Markle lives by this quote to tune out 'naysayers'

Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex arrives at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, on October 01, 2019.
Michele Spatari | AFP | Getty Images

As a public figure in her own right before her less-than-traditional path to global fame, Meghan Markle has had her fair share of critics.

In the span of four years, the actor has become the subject of racist and invasive tabloid headlines throughout her relationship with now-husband Prince Harry.

Speaking with Fortune senior editor Ellen McGirt at Fortune's Most Powerful Women conference this week, the Duchess of Sussex shared a quote that she's lived by in order to stay focused on her work and tune out naysayers along her journey.

The quote, which Markle said she used to have posted in her room, comes from artist Georgia O'Keefe: "I have already settled it for myself, so flattery and criticism go down the same drain, and I am quite free."

Markle and her husband have taken on new roles in advocacy work following their step back from the British Royal Family earlier this year. In recent months, Markle has been vocal in condemning the treatment of Black Americans and police brutality, as well as the importance of voting in a crucial election year. She said the O'Keefe quote is a reminder for her to speak authentically about issues that are important to her, despite a history of facing harsh criticism, particularly from the British tabloid press, for her words and actions.

"If you look back at anything I've said, what ends up being inflammatory is people's interpretation of it," Markle said. "But if you listen to what I actually say, it's not controversial."

"There will always be naysayers," Markle continued. But if you focus on yourself, your values and your moral compass, "it's easy to live with truth and authenticity, and that's how I choose to move through the world."

Some of Markle's latest work with her husband includes a multi-year Netflix deal and establishing the Archewell Foundation, which aims to foster positive online communities in order to support mental health, equity and wellbeing more broadly. 

"There's so much good that comes out of it — we would not be able to do this right now if not for the tech space," Markle said, referring to the ability to speak to conference attendees virtually in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, she said there needs to be a reckoning in how digital communities are built and run, and how people contribute to them, when hate speech and disinformation can be spread so quickly.

"I think it's hard for people to wrap their heads around," Markle said of the problem. "Its like we live in the future when we talk about bots and trolls, but that's actually the current state of affairs of how we interact with each other online and off. It's not just an isolated experience. It translates to how we interact with anyone, and certainly your relationship with yourself."

She said everyone has a part in improving the disinformation problem, from major tech companies to grassroots organizations. Individuals play a role in how they consume and share news information, too: "We have got to all put our stock in something that is true."

In recent months, Markle and her husband joined the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which encourages corporations to withhold advertising money from platforms, particularly Facebook, for their failure to appropriately respond to online hate speech. The campaign was stoked by national protests and Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the police killing of George Floyd in May.

"It's not about trying to take down Facebook," Markle said of her overall goal in calling for change. "If the changes that are being made are in fact made, it's for the good of everyone, Facebook included."

Such actions are a start, but they shouldn't distract from the need to find long-term solutions to systemically overhaul the way information is shared online.

"We can't have this slap on the wrist," Markle said. "If we're looking for long-term solutions, what actions we do now will lay the groundwork for future work?"

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