Cancel Culture: A Shameless Plea

For our culture to change, the key is kindness.

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Cancel culture is erasing people
Shutterstock: Lightspring

Trump and Obama didn’t, and don’t, agree on much. However, it seems they share one commonality as they both spoke out against  “call out culture” or “cancel culture” albeit for very different reasons. 

Call out or cancel cultures are focused on shaming. They are generally focused on group shaming to publicly humiliate someone – in person and on social media. Hindsight is a gift, and using it to shame others is perpetuating the idea that other people deserve your hate.

I go by the name Shameless Psychiatrist because I talk about how to reduce shame. In fact, I wrote an entire book about it! Shaming is not setting the right example and it starts with our children. You might not realize what is happening on the larger, political scale, is also happening on a microlevel in middle schools. Teenagers often engage in this incredibly toxic behavior. In fact – they invented it.  

Let’s define cancel culture. Cancel culture means to “cancel” someone who has done – or said – something that people do not agree with. Alexia Lewis, a teen writer for Parents magazine, describes this in a great article called “A Parents Guide to Cancel Culture.” 

She states, “As a trend, you can call Cancel Culture the youth’s way of digitally organizing—we stan, or obsess over something or someone we like and cancel those we do not. From “stan” to “canceled,” the spectrum is wide but rapidly traveled—one careless action can take you from beloved to hated, and could end a career or a friendship. Teen spectators of everything from pop culture to politics bask in the power that lies within Cancel Culture.” 

Is cancel culture a good or a bad thing?

  • Cancel culture can be very useful in creating grassroots movements for very good causes. An example of this is like criticizing Harvey Weinstein during the #metoo movement in an attempt to get him fired.
  • On the flip side, it can take bullying to a new level and some of it goes too far. It can lead to an internet which spews negativity and even forces Instagram to rethink their algorithm. For example, stupid comments made by teens can render them “cancelled” and cause them to bullied mercilessly. This happens online and often goes ignored by everyone at school as everyone feels vindicated in doing so. See The New York time article in which one teen states that cancel culture “takes away the option for them to learn from their mistakes and kind of alienates them.”

The average person may be uneducated about certain things and making them feel alienated won’t help. Irshad Manji, author of Don’t Label Me states in White Fragility Is Not the Answer. Honest Diversity that “shaming people for perception of being fragile (perception of being wrong)  is both misleading and toxic. Misleading because everybody with a brain, regardless of race, can be tricked into oversensitivity by the ego. Toxic because drenching an environment in shame rarely inspires people to listen to one another authentically. More often, research shows, shaming humiliates and plants the seeds of animosity. It demeans one group to redeem the dignity of another, sowing resentment, fueling self-censorship, and undermining collaboration.”  

My child’s relative once made a very off-color comment to a single-sex male parent at a birthday party, calling it unnatural. Getting angry and shaming him on his ideas won’t help. President Barack Obama talked about being “woke” recently and stated “this idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly,” he said. “The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.”

For example, explaining LGBTQ+ culture to someone less exposed to how culture has shifted will take time. We need to take pride in gently explaining that comparisons of single sex parents and heterosexual parents shows comparable parental competence.

I delight in knowing that there have been few differences in psychological adjustment and mental health of the children. Sometimes even outperforming heteronormative couples in things like sharing child care, housework, and paid employment. And I am happy to explain this to others, using facts, and positive messages, not shaming my relatives for their point of view. 

Our children are the way to change cultural bias and stigmas, too. For more traditional families, it can be easy to make assumptions about people’s family life. A remark such as “your mother and father should be proud of you” is making many assumptions. It assumes that the person has a mother and a father, not a single-sex couple or single-parent arrangement. Gently educate your kids and others that it would be better to use gender-neutral language like “your parents should be proud” or “they must be good people.” 

However shaming other people who have not learned these life lessons is not the way to move culture forward. Teaching your children to avoid offending or putting people in an awkward position by not making assumptions is important, as we should do our best to put other people at ease so they feel at liberty to share about their life rather than becoming shut down or embarrassed about their situation. And if you get it wrong? Don’t be afraid to apologize.

Educating, asking for clarification, and a little bit of apologetic naïveté can go a long way. On the flip side, it also means avoiding shaming people if they accidentally do it wrong. The road to hell can be paved with good intentions.

It is key to teach tolerance in schools, and that shaming people can be very harmful even if your intentions are in the right place. There is room for all kinds of ideas even if they ideas you don’t agree with. Barack Obama states “if all you’re doing is casting stones you’re probably not going to get very far.” Be forgiving and let it go. This kind of social media bullying which goes on can do serious damage. 

I have seen teenagers lives ruined by a single stupid comment or act. Alexia Lewis’ A Parent’s Guide to Cancel Culture, Explained by a Teenager states that “ All it takes is a small action to be deemed cancel-worthy, but being aware of your actions can help you prevent getting canceled, too. Once you’re canceled, especially on a large scale, it can be hard to come back. Being canceled means everyone around you now questions their involvement with you, because in the eyes of the masses you now only represent the very thing that you were canceled for.” 

Culture is changing constantly and we are all on a journey and some people are further along in their acceptance of new societal rules such as gay marriage, interracial relations, etc, and other people may not share your point of view.

For culture to change, the key is kindness.

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