Not long ago, I overheard a man in my neighborhood who was outside talking on his cell phone in an animated, impassioned voice about how “cancel culture” was the reason for his daughter’s numerous difficulties at work and how people need to be so careful these days about every little thing they say and do, for fear of stepping on the wrong toes and getting “cancelled.” He was gesturing emphatically and looked on the verge of tears.
There was something about his words that stopped me in my tracks and made my heart twist uncomfortably in my chest. I didn’t know him or his daughter well, but I could identify with the urgency and pain in his voice. I hurt for him. I hurt for her. I hurt for us all, having to deal with this “cancel culture” phenomenon that has swept through our society.
Because the pain in his voice was a pain I think we all know or have known well, at least once in our lives. The pain of judgement, of criticism, of being told that we are “wrong” and unworthy of love or attention because of our very so-called “wrongness.” We didn’t always have a convenient catchy name for this, though, and it was a phenomenon nowhere near as widespread or rampant in my youth as it is in this digital age.
And I think that’s part of the problem with cancel culture, really — the digital age. It’s made us feel much less accountable for our own snarkily voiced judgements of others, because of the relative anonymity allowed by internet messaging and commenting, and yet at the same time, it’s made us much more likely to try to hold others accountable for the things that they may have said or done — especially if there is an online record of such sayings or doings, and especially if mob mentality tells us that what someone else has done is worthy of our scorn, censure, or derision.
But cancel culture is toxic, y’all. It’s rooted in the diseased belief that some of us are “good” or “better” and some of us are “bad” or “lesser.” And that’s just bullsh*t. We are all human, imperfect, fallible, and we ALL make mistakes. Some of us just have the unlucky experience of having our imperfect moments recorded and/or published for all of posterity to see, to spread around the internet, and to subsequently, of course, publicly condemn. But I really believe it’s foolish to think that any one of us has the right to “cancel” anyone else.
Cancel culture, in my mind, really has no place in a benevolent society, or in ANY community built on a foundation of compassion, understanding, tolerance, and mutual respect. Because we all deserve to be seen, to have our stories heard, to be treated with basic civility, no matter the mistakes and missteps we may have made in the past. Our justice system, after all (while admittedly imperfect itself), is based on these principles. Why, then, is society at large so quick and willing to abandon these principles?
It makes me sad.
It also makes me incredibly grateful to have grown up just before the digital age really exploded. Seriously, y’all, I shudder to think of what it would be like to have someone examine the entirety of my younger life with a fine-toothed comb, to bear witness to every choice, every word, every decision I’ve ever made. I would surely have been “cancelled” a hundred times over, by the standards of current society, as would many of us, I’d imagine.
I am, after all, only a human, and while I have learned and grown and become a better person over time, I don’t think any of us necessarily starts out that way — fully formed and evolved and self-actualized and all that. We have to fall in the dirt in order to learn how to pick ourselves up. We have to know what it feels like to be low to know how to begin to rise up, to lift ourselves out of the muck. I mean, my god y’all, we have to MAKE mistakes in order to learn how to be truly compassionate in the first place.
Anyway, all of that is basically just to say, in my mind, we are ALL worthy of love and respect, we are all enough, just as we are, imperfect messes and all. It is our very imperfections, in fact, that make us beautiful.
And to those of you who have been forced to grow up under the hot, relentless spotlight of this vicious digital age, my heart goes out to you, and I love you, my dear sweet darlings. I will always believe that we are all uncancellable. And I hope that you can believe that of yourself too, especially if society ever tries to tell you different.