Musings

Cancel the Behavior and Not the Person: Permitting Growth Within Cancel Culture

There is a reoccurring disquieting moment in my life that usually happens shortly after I take my kids to school. I sit down at my computer and look up what the trending news of the day is and most days; I read about someone famous that did or said something horrible. Then, a plethora of comments flow through at the end of the article or social media post shaming and “canceling” the person. The disquieting moment is that a cringe flows up my spine because of a fear that I, too, will be found out for something I did or said.

I have a love/hate relationship with cancel culture. On one hand, I completely agree that someone should be “canceled” for saying or doing something horrible. That is, if they show no remorse and are unwilling to see the damages of their actions or words. Actions and words matter and when they come from a person with a large following who is upon a pedestal, they go farther. So, it’s easy to call out the person perched higher than everyone else. And I’m sure it’s hard to humble oneself after being propped above others and seek forgiveness. But once that forgiveness is sought, I think we need to uncancel and move forward. Because who among us doesn’t deserve to be canceled?

I want to be clear before I go on; I am not suggesting we forgive and forget those that have committed a crime, such as sexual assault. Those people should face criminal charges and have their day in court. The “Me Too” movement brought many malfeasant characters to light that deserved to be tried in criminal court and in the court of public opinion.

In non-criminal canceling public opinion outcries, I believe we need to be ready to give space for growth. And if there is no growth after being called out, then we can take canceling a step further. We must give people the chance to mature. By calling out and immediately shutting off, we’re limiting the possibilities for character change that could help others see their own folly and to make a similar change.

I have admitted before that I have not always been a good man. Some might believe I’m still not a good man now. For much of my life, I said and did sexist things, laughed at and told racist jokes, and said some horribly homophobic statements. I’m so thankful I grew up in a time before social media. If I hadn’t, I would have been canceled and deservedly so. My behavior was abhorrent. It wasn’t criminal, but that didn’t make it less horrible. In my early 20s, I saw my behavior and mindset for the evilness it was and realized changes had to be made. I listened and then reacted. I stopped saying and doing things that were harmful to others and took up their banners. I saw the effects of “punching down” and chose to lift others up. I hope the last 20+ years of my life have made a small impact for the better.

There is a concept in Christianity called “born again.” In a nutshell, the term means that someone recognizes they are a sinner and can’t become holy on their own. The only way for them to do so is to have faith in Jesus and accept his sacrifice as a permanent payment. Once this happens, there should be an obvious change in the person’s behavior and attitude by loving more and forgiving more. (Christians have been failing a lot in the last part lately, but that’s another topic for another day.) I don’t think you have to be a Christian to adopt a “born again” philosophy. If someone sees they’re doing horrible things and makes a change, then they should be accepted back into the good graces of the masses. As much as we all would love to toss stones, we all deserved to be hit by some, too.

I would love to see a change in how we cancel others. Social media isn’t going away and either is people saying really terrible things. Ill behavior needs to be exposed. We should criticize those who say hurtful words. Those that support policies that hold marginalized people back must face public backlash for their political and social stances. Racist, sexist, and homophobic behavior absolutely must be challenged. We should unreservedly cancel destructive behavior, but permit space for growth. Everyone has potential. I am exhibit A.

And if they refuse to change after receiving plenty of opportunities? Well, then some tough love canceling is acceptable.

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