Destroy, Erase, Cancel - The Culture and Climate of Cancelling a Life

The empowerment series deals with uncomfortable issues facing us today.  I started this series to deal with some of the negatives in the Fair Trade and "Do Good" industry.  I have found other topics of interest such as this one that tie into that narrative so am including them in this series. 

Do you know someone who has been “cancelled” because of something stupid they said or did? Do you think it is fair, deserved or right to destroy someone’s life for one stupid mistake? Have you ever been ostracized because of something you said or did?

Maybe they are making racist, insensitive or inappropriate comments. Perhaps they did some kind of inappropriate behavior. Those things are egregious and should be dealt with, but the climate today is to totally cancel people from society, destroy their lives or even kill them if someone can get to them. There are consistent and numerous death threats made against people for stupid and ignorant things they’ve done.

People are getting their lives and livelihood destroyed for maybe one stupid act or stupid comment. Maybe they mean it, maybe they don’t but why are their lives being cancelled instead of educating them and making them an example to come forward, have a real conversation and encourage them to become advocates for change?

The bible has many things to say about the problems with the tongue and how what we say can get us into much trouble. “Your tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do! Just like a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire, your tongue is also a dangerous fire” James 3:5. My Pastor did an excellent message on this entitled “A Faith That Helps Me Filter What I Say”

You can view that message here:

The Mendicino Fire in California was the worst fire in California history. It started with a spark and burned over 459,000 acres and destroyed almost 300 buildings. That much destruction was from only one spark. Our words, the things we say, can do as much if not more damage. Especially today with how quickly the Internet and cell phones spread information. It gets shared quickly and can easily go viral in a matter of minutes.

Most of the people who are on the other end of their stupidity after whatever stupid thing has come out of their mouths are remorseful. By that time, it’s too late and people won’t accept the apology no matter how sincere it is because they want blood, death or destruction of that person. This I don’t understand because every single one of us has said or done something inappropriate that given the circumstances could end up going viral with the same cancelling result.

Many people say something and they don’t realize is the wrong thing to say or it was taken out of context or they are simply ignorant and uneducated about certain things. The unforgiving public doesn’t care what they meant. They assign their own meaning to it and run with it.

Justine Sacco. Do you remember her? Do you even know who she is or do you care?

It was 7 years ago when she sent one stupid tweet that destroyed her life for years. From everything I’ve read, she’s not or wasn’t a racist but the tweet she posted to her measly 170 followers on Twitter before she boarded a plane to South Africa for 10 hours, turned her life upside down when one of those followers re-tweeted it out and it went viral. It was egregious and wrong but I think she was ignorant of the ramifications and seriousness of what she was saying. Read about the story here: 

Did the punishment fit the crime? I think not. As someone who has been a leader of people both in the military and out and with the climate what it is today, I think this woman would have been a perfect candidate to become an advocate for helping bring awareness to racism and racist comments. Perhaps she should have been suspended from work, demoted and then be required to put together a presentation and train people in her company on bias and racial injustices.

Obviously, if she really was racist it violates company policies on discrimination against race or other policies that may be included in the company and should be investigated and dealt with accordingly. There’s a fine line with some of this but for the most part there are so many people that have stupid things slip out of their mouth that they were ignorant about what they were saying or didn't mean. They should be given the opportunity to make amends in some way instead of losing everything. 

In the Air Force back in the 80’s when someone had a drinking problem, they used to throw them out of the military. Now they put them in a program to rehabilitate them. Whey don’t we do this for people who have these types of issues? Why do we slam them and destroy their lives? Rehabilitation is meant to correct or heal a sickness.  Racism is a sickness borne out of bogus beliefs.  Bias is something that happens unconsciously because of information we are given and usually excludes many facts so we base our ideals on half truths. 

People have a right to look stupid in public. Freedom of speech gives us the right to say what we want and risk stupid things coming out of our mouths. Then you have to face the consequences for your stupidity. Proverbs 18:21 says you will have to live with the consequences of everything you say. 

More recent in the long line of wrongful utterings is the inappropriate actions of Amy Cooper. You must have heard of the dumb racist thing she did shown in the above video.  She used a racist threat to try to get the police to intervene in a situation where a black man (Christian Cooper) was bird watching in Central Park in NYC and simply asked her to put a leash on her dog.   

I believe she reacted out of bias and that the bullying and destruction of her life are unwarranted. Even Christian Cooper the man who recorded the video and who was the subject of her calling the police said he didn’t agree with the things that were happening to her.

All these people and many more have had their lives basically cancelled, destroyed or threatened with death for their ignorance. Most of them apologize but people won’t accept it as sincere enough because that won’t satisfy their hunger for destruction. The offender attempts to make it right but they are judged to not be making it right enough by the court of public opinion.

What if instead of cancelling them we did something else that might educate other people? What if we could do something to turn this type of cancel culture into something like education and instead becoming a change culture?

Instead of firing them from their job and taking everything away from their lives, maybe a different approach is in order. What if they were required to do research on the injustice they perpetrated and give presentations against racism and racial bias to their company they work for or how about as community service? What better person to learn from than someone who has faced the gauntlet of public scrutiny and slaughtering for their stupid behavior? How much more positive change could they invoke instead of the anger and hate that comes from people being so dead set on their destruction?  

Many people don't want that kind of change, they want to spew hate and tear people apart. While I do think there are some people that you can’t change and maybe the only solution is to fire them, I believe that most people want to do good and don’t intend to say or do stupid or racist things.

Many white people are just ignorant of the truth about racism because it doesn’t enter into their sphere of reference and they have their own biases that sometimes come out without them even realizing it. (Please see previous blog post about bias)

I think that may have been what caused Amy Cooper’s reaction. All she had to do was put her dog on a leash. For whatever reason she had a crazy reaction. Is she crazy? Is she racist? Is she a horrible person? Maybe, maybe not, but she’s judged forever more as such now.

I consider myself an advocate for anti racism but I grew up in a privileged white environment and haven’t lived the history that black people did. Jim Crow laws were in effect in my lifetime and even after that there were plenty of places that wouldn’t allow black people to go in. I remember as a kid in school one of my friends parents wouldn't let our black friend in their house.  I didn't understand that at all or the things she must have gone through and never got an answer as to why.

I wasn’t aware of the reality of racism growing up. I don't remember my parents saying anything negative about any race. When I joined the military I had friends of all races. I am sure I have had and maybe still have some unconscious biases but the key is to pay attention to those, research and get educated so they can be revealed and eradicated.  Most importantly, you need to watch what you say, because it will come back to bite you. 

Here are some suggested videos to watch that I have found to be a way to start educating yourself further. Even if you are aware of the issues, they are still great resources to help add to the conversation of change.

Faith and Prejudice:

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man: 

There are many great documentaries and movies about the history of black people and the struggles they have faced that doesn’t get taught in school. I suggest you research those. The most recent one I watched was about the Freedom Riders in 1961. It’s on YouTube. Check it out.

I will leave you with this quote by Rep John Lewis who was one of the Freedom Riders and lived a life of non violence and fought against racism with non violence not hate. I think that’s how we should approach all things. Love always wins.

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