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The Cancel Culture's Heavy Price: Everyone Gets Hurt



On July 7, an intellectually reasoned attempt of 153 famous signatories wrote a letter to Harper's Magazine calling for the elimination of "cancel culture." But almost two months later, we're still at it. That is, feeding this growing cancel-culture monster by publicly silencing the voices of those we disagree with, dislike, or consider offensive. We mute them by withdrawing support, demanding their resignation, and shaming them online in order to force them out of the public sight line—permanently.  

This is the fear Becki Falwell, wife of Liberty University's former president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., intimated as she asks Christians to forgive her for her role in the public scandal now reeling into many dark holes. 

Within the church we drape the cancel culture behavior with biblical metaphors and comfort ourselves with weak Scriptural references to support our worldly actions. Yet, after we peel away the Christian-speak like "I was led to do that" or "God understands", it's still the cancel culture.   

The cancel culture needs to be canceled because it will stunt your growth personally and our growth as a free society. Since an intellectual argument doesn't seem to be working, I'll try an emotional one. Emotions are "the hinge of logic" but they tend to be sloppy and incoherent if misunderstood. To use its strength and avoid the pitfall, I'll put my emotions neatly into two buckets.

The cancel culture hurts your communication skills. If your first or second response to an opposing opinion or undesirable action is to hit the unsubscribe button, you're probably hurting yourself. How so? Because you cut off your right to be heard and shut down the developmental process of good communication skills. 

Stop me if you've heard this before: Good communication is key to effective leadership, healthy relationships, and strong communities.  Opposing views must be clearly communicated. You can't contribute to developing a business, growing a relationship, or participating in creating a thriving community if you are unwilling to communicate your views and listen to the perspective others introduce.  

Bari Weiss, one of the signatories of the July 7 letter, resigned just days later as a writer and opinion editor with The New York Times. She cites "bullying by colleagues" as one of her reasons for quitting. She felt there was no consideration for her perspective. 

The cancel culture makes you inconsiderate and inarticulate. Inconsiderate is how the other person feels about you after you've canceled him or her without an opportunity for a healthy dialogue.  

Inarticulate is what happens to you after you've drank the cancel-culture Kool-Aid. Remember the commercial, the one with the muscle-bound guy whose famous one-liner etched into our mind the need to join a Planet Fitness? With a slow drawl that makes him sound like the proverbial dummy, the muscle-bound guy with opened shirt displaying huge pecs, six-pack abs, and 24-inch biceps simply says, "I lift things up and put them down."  

The commercial feeds into a negative stereotype of bodybuilders, which I must say is what the cancel culture does to the one who is always ready to cancel others. When you cancel someone without explaining yourself or inviting dialogue, what they hear through your actions is the muscle-bound gym rat who says, "I lift things up and put them down." The cancel culture produces dummies who lack the ability to explain themselves in a reasonably intelligent fashion.  

The cancel culture suppresses your reasoning skills. Aristotle, Plato, and other great thinkers labored to excel in rhetoric—the art of public speaking. This showcased their brilliance, and more importantly, was a tool in persuading their opponent to abandon their perspective in lieu of the one being skillfully presented. 

The art of persuasion is the fruit from the tree of reasoning. No one likes a barren fruit tree. Fruit trees are supposed to bear fruit—edible, juicy fruit. By embracing the cancel culture, your reasoning skills atrophy much like an unused muscle. It takes zero effort to hit the unsubscribe button.

But to structure an argument considering logic, the use of emotions, and the validation your character brings to the disagreement takes time. My alma mater, University of Cambridge, boasts having the oldest debating society in the world—The Cambridge Union. It is a forum for and the epitome of free speech and open discussion. Even in academic papers, professors challenged us to "convince them" of the conclusions reached via persuasive and well-reasoned arguments. Low marks awaited you if your conclusions were too neat. The tension, struggles, and polarized perspectives must be highlighted while teasing out your personal perspective.

Nowadays, we don't want to take the needed time to develop reasoning skills. That's too hard.  Too time-consuming. Keep in mind that we're paying a hefty price. The cancel culture keeps you immature, stunts your intellectual growth, and lessens your ability to pull the best out of one another. The Bible is right: Iron sharpens iron. 

The next time you think about using shame to silence someone because you take umbrage with his or her view of the social issue, remember Nelson Mandela's cautionary statement: "Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies." 

Shaming people is a form of exercising social control. It is the go-to weapon of bullies.  However, according to the research findings of Amnesty International and other Western press reports, shaming either has no effect or worsens the outcome in democracies. Shaming only improves human rights behavior in autocracies, of which we are not. The next time you feel the need to shame someone into abandoning their perspective, remember the words of Isaac Newton: "Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy." 

Don't let your communication or reasoning skills be hijacked by the cancel culture.  

David D. Ireland, Ph.D. is a globally-recognized expert in the areas of leadership and organizational development, multicultural relations, marriage and family, and pastoral ministry. An author of more than 20 books, he has served as a diversity consultant to the NBA and major corporations. He has lectured at Harvard University, the Pentagon and at conferences in 75 nations. Ireland is also founder and senior pastor of Christ Church, a multisite and multiracial NJ church with a membership of 9,500 people spanning over 70 nationalities. For more information, please visit: @DrDavidIreland, and http://davidireland.org.

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