If you read this post’s title and decided, “Yes! This is it! This whole cancel culture thing has to stop. It is out of control!,” you might not want to read any further. The whole run-amok issue is something every single one of us needs to take responsibility for, because every one of us is feeding into it.
First, it’s nothing new. Call it boycotting or cancelling, it’s been happening for years. We tend to call it boycotting when we see it as purposeful and justified. When we think of something as wrong, we choose to not only refrain but to stir up group think that has a broader impact. Yet it rarely does. At least, it doesn’t usually have the intended impact. Our behavior generally just stirs the pot and sloshes it around to make a mess, then everything settles back down with some minimal change. We want to believe we’re holding others accountable, but most of the time we don’t have that impact let alone the relationship with the root cause or direct effect which accountability requires.
Second, we all do it. Not only do we all do it, but we justify how and when we react while accusing others of being absurd, irrational, or excessive when they do the same thing we’re doing within a different context. For example, I’m generalizing, but many people who were vocal about/for cancelling Netflix in 2020 because of some content in question are also vocal about/against cancelling Dr. Seuss recently because of some content in question. (For the record, Dr. Seuss has not been cancelled. The handful of books that will no longer be published was decided upon by the Seuss’ estate, not some imposing outside enforcer. And that handful of books totals six; Dr. Seuss published around sixty books.) Many who argue that limiting the books that are published is censorship (again, Seuss’ estate made this decision) make their own decisions of what to read, watch, listen to, and spend money on every day. Some things are included because of the values they share, and others are ignored for the same reasons. We have different values. We’re going to differ on what we allow in our lives. We have options.
Third, we can seek and grow in our values without demanding everyone else become our carbon copies. We change over time, and we want the freedom to do that, but we somehow can’t imagine other people being where they are at the time we intersect and differ. Of course, we’re passionate about our faith, truth, lifestyle, and so on. We can share with others. We can engage and listen and process. It will be frustrating at times because we will feel as if we are at a place other people need to be—and they might believe the same. Simply understanding that common ground can be powerful within our relationships. And that’s a good place to start in considering alternatives to cancelling or spewing:
- Respond with respectful curiosity. Put a person in front of a position, because perspectives change, and you reveal the importance of relationships with your responses.
- Replace the knee-jerk response with a desire to understand. Listen to the claim being made, then explore the basis of the claim. Use multiple sources. Do not simply believe a friend’s post on social media. Do not simply trust the shared article going around. Look at the source. See what else the person or group publishes. Be aware of his/her typical stance. Refuse to read only sources you agree with or avoid the sources you don’t. You can be firm in your values while experiencing a broader perspective.
- Apply wisdom. I’d love to say common sense, but I too often have to admit that common sense doesn’t seem so common anymore. Be aware that some people are simply trying to stir up a reaction. Some tend to live on the line of limits. Some avoid conflict at just about all costs. Some are gullible. You don’t have to live in an extreme, and you simultaneously don’t have to live in a soft middle of compromise. Be smart. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and be aware others have them, too. If you’re bothered by something, decide how much time and energy it is worth for you. There are plenty of options. Just because something is popular or not, just because it’s accepted by your group of people doesn’t mean it’s absolutely right or wrong. Or maybe it is right or wrong, but the approach being taken betrays it. Just be wise, and that takes intentional patience and humility.
- Avoid an all or nothing mindset. There are going to be a handful of things in your life that you value and prioritize with an all or nothing attitude. That makes sense. But to make every conversation and relationship about an all or nothing stance is unsustainable and unrealistic. You can’t be serious and take a stand on every issue; when you do, you aren’t seen as consistent as you possibly hope to be. Instead, you are seen as argumentative and disagreeable, and that means many people will easily dismiss you. Taking a debate position on nearly every conversation might make you a master debater but it will erode your relationships.
- Know more of what you’re embracing than what you’re avoiding. You can cancel and boycott, but do you know what you are embracing and supporting? You can condemn, but do you know what you are accepting? It’s not just about the content of the issue but the process you are taking. Every time you stand for or against something, the way in which you do it reveals something about your character.
Finally, take responsibility. It’s the only way we will curb the run amok-ness around us.