The tragedy of life is in what dies inside a man while he lives – the death of genuine feeling, the death of inspired response, the awareness that makes it possible to feel the pain or the glory of other men in yourself. ~Norman Cousins
I woke up this morning to the #ThingsWeShouldCancel hashtag trending on Twitter. I know that this hashtag was started with levity in mind and not with the usual manufactured outrage that underpins the cancel culture. But the idea of canceling anything is troubling to me. Humans are complex beings who are facing complex challenges. But the cancel culture requires that we shove people into boxes, flattening them down into one-dimensional characters the can be easily judged and dismissed.
I tried hard not to use the term nuance because along with the words foment and tropes, it has been used so often it’s becoming noise. But it really is nuance that I am talking about. A person or position can rarely be fleshed out in an era of soundbites and social media. I’ve written before about my fear that we aren’t allowing people to be whole humans anymore. A whole human can be messy, irrational, contradictory, but mostly redeeming if we see them in their totality. We should resist the temptation to oversimplify something inherently complex.
Cancel Culture is Lazy
We, unfortunately, don’t just get to skip to the good parts without doing the work. Not as individuals and certainly not as a society. Besides, there are many differing views on what is ‘good’ anyway. Cancel culture is lazy and reactionary. In a time where we have social media celebrities and influencers with ambiguous societal value, we’ve lost sight of what real change requires (and maybe what the real world is like). Bans, boycotts, cancels provide a short-lived opportunity to gain social currency but don’t catalyze any long term change. People can briefly feel good about themselves while sitting behind a screen. A call-out or cancel lacks the foundation and thoughtfulness needed to avoid unintended consequences. Because we find someone’s thoughts or political leanings offensive doesn’t just mean we cancel them and it goes away. It festers and frankly, recruits. A well-organized rebuttal or in-depth discussion does more for shifting the landscape than a call-out. I think the antidote to talk we don’t like, is more talking rather than canceling.
Inner Work Required
Cancel culture also speaks to a lack of self-awareness and willingness to do some inner excavation. In the spiritual community, we have a name for this type of defense mechanism – spiritual bypassing. It’s when people want to go directly to the love and light without doing the inner work. This way, the person is spared from having to feel any negative ‘vibes’ or emotions. Instead, I think when we are faced with something we are opposed to, it is the perfect time to look at one’s own shit. What are we afraid of? What do we value? Why is someone with a different worldview so threatening?
Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom. ~Rumi
The offense or anger that we feel is really a signal of healing to be done. Yes, there are times when being offended is justified, but then our focus should be on dealing with the root causes and supporting real change. People don’t like to hear this because we hold our feelings in such high esteem that we think they should be protected at all cost. Instead of seeing emotions for what they are. They are data points. They are spikes on a graph that warrant introspection rather than protection. They are the messages from our wounds.
Reclaiming Your Power
This isn’t about blaming the victim it is about putting yourself in charge of your own well-being. Not every slight or rude comment or dissenting opinion should be allowed to interfere with your contentment . And if it does, then the story that frames those feelings should be addressed. That’s where the inner work can become so powerful. The more we heal the stories and emotional trauma within ourselves, the more untouchable we become. We don’t become untouchable by never being touched. We get there by facing adversity and using those challenges to understand who we are and how we show up in the world. Sometimes people are just douche bags and don’t deserve our time, energy, or resources. Please understand, I am not talking about real crime, abuse, or neglect. I’m talking about canceling something because it upsets you or doesn’t fit into your worldview. We can learn more about ourselves listening to contrary ideas than we can in an echo chamber.
So I hope that we can move past our screen warrior mentalities and opt for real-world change. While we may be justified in some of our anger, we don’t move past it as a society by avoiding the people or ideas we disagree with. There will always be bad actors with bad ideas, but we challenge those ideas with better ones. That is the only way we really heal. First we look within and then we look without.
Listen in to the Chaos & Light Podcast as we explore cancel culture further from the perspective of freedom and liberation.