We've all seen it happen. Someone makes an unsavory, inflammatory, or controversial post on social media. Those outraged then personally attack the poster and even harass the accused's employer. Understandably, the employer does not want to be connected to an online controversy at the risk of losing business and they sever ties with their employee. Condemned in the court of public opinion, the accused is irrevocably harmed.
This phenomenon is called "cancel culture" — and it is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies in America today.
Cancel culture embodies everything wrong with America. It is the pinnacle of our chaotic political discourse and magnifies the very worst of us.
Why social media is toxic
Social media provides many benefits. But one of the biggest drawbacks of being able to publish opinions at the click of a button is that people have lost the ability to self-filter. It is easier to make unsavory remarks behind the safety of a screen than it is to make those same remarks to a person's face.
Screens remove the barrier of having to feel the immediate weight of hurting another human being.
This unfortunate consequence of our hyperconnected world means that people every day write words online that they would never say in real life. Journey into the comments section on Facebook or any news story to see the offensive, crude, and repugnant words people write that they would never actually utter without the safety of their screen.
Despite this, people should not be "canceled" — thereby having their lives turned upside down because they lost their job — over regrettable online remarks.
Humans are messy — and we need grace
Adults understand that relationships are inextricably complex. Humans are complex creatures, and relationships require several ingredients for success: love, grace, mercy, empathy, forgiveness, equity, just to name a few. Without these necessary pieces, no relationship between messy humans will succeed, let alone function on a basic level.
We have to compromise. We have to give more than we take. We have to see the best in one another and call each other into the best version of who we are.
This process, of course, is riddled with hurt feelings and mistakes. But mature people understand that mistakes are the fire that forge growth. Without mistakes, people do not learn and they do not grow.
And that is what makes cancel culture so tragic. One word, one post, one picture — and people risk losing their livelihood.
Social media is an echo-chamber
Compounding the absurdity of cancel culture is the fact that social media, and most certainly political and news social media, is a massive echo-chamber. Social media does not accurately gauge the pulse of our society; it does not represent what the majority of well-meaning Americans believe.
Yet the power of social media is that certain voices are amplified in such a way that a few hundred people become a rip tide of pressure. And it is under this pressure that so many businesses cave.
In fact, there is no evidence that most social media controversies translate to any real-world impact to the businesses entangled in online anger. And even if they do, it is always temporary because our hyper-sensationalized culture quickly finds new issues over which to be outraged.
No reasonable person believes that the accused should have their life flipped upside-down over brief online controversy found in extremely small corners of the internet.
It changes no one
What's worse is that cancel culture does not have the intended effect that those who seek to cancel people think. Getting the accused fired from their job over unsavory online remarks only teaches the accused not to make those same remarks in that type of forum again.
In fact, I would wager that being canceled makes the accused further entrench themselves in what they already believe.
Getting someone canceled is not going to change their opinion, and it most certainly not going to make their opinion congruent with those who initiated the cancelling.
No one is innocent
The greatest irony of cancel culture is that no person is truly innocent. If our every thought or word were scrutinized, we would all fail the test.
No person can honestly hurdle the impossible standard established by cancel culture.
We are all human, and each one of us has bad days and we inevitably say words that we regret, comments that we do not actually mean and do not reflect our heart. The truth is that we should not be defined by our worst moments. Every human who has experienced relationship (that means everyone!) intuitively knows this to be true.
A path forward
We need to chart a new path because cancel culture is leading our society down a dark, and ultimately unsustainable, direction.
The trailhead of this journey will require more grace for one another, not less. More love for one another, not less. More empathy for one another, not less. More forgiveness for one another, not less.
We must allow our neighbors room to grow, and that means giving them the space they need to make mistakes. The road to wisdom, maturity, and nuance is paved with mistakes.
What cancel culture does is remove this critical aspect of what it means to be a human functioning in a community of other humans. If we do not cultivate room for growth, making space for people to make mistakes, we are hindering — not helping — people from becoming refined characters defined by empathy, grace, and selfless love.
The truth is: to be outraged is easy, but to love is hard.
And that is what we all truly desire; to be seen and to be known — yet still be loved despite our worst moments.
May we become a people who extend to our neighbor the love, grace, forgiveness, empathy, and understanding that we want for ourselves. Let's finally end the tragedy that is "cancel culture."