In the book, Rethinking Leadership, Annabel Beerel said, “Leading in a time of crisis requires multiple skills. These include a calm demeanor, the courage to speak to reality, an ability to find clarity amid chaos, a capacity for deep empathy, and sensitive timing.”1 And we are in a crisis. The crisis of cancel culture. It started as a means of social change, a way of speaking individual truths to positions of power. But where it was once focused on authority figures, public shaming and humiliation have become the “go-to” means of voicing disapproval, real or imaginary, against anyone. It’s gone from social issues to personal ones, from celebrities to classmates.
Agreeing with this crisis, Emma Camp, writing about cancel culture, quoted a student in her 2022 New York Times article, “When criticism transforms into a public shaming, it stifles learning.”2 Allow me to say, when criticism transforms into public shaming, it stifles relationships…it erodes relationships…it destroys relationships.
Speaking of relationships, the book, The Canceling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott was very hard for me to read because of all the carnage of relationships that easily happened over and over and over again. It took me about two days to regulate myself after reading The Story of Mike Adams, a University of North Carolina, Wilmington, criminology professor who took his life due to the unforgiving cruelty of cancel culture.3 As I write I am still hurting over this, knowing he had friends, family, colleagues, followers, students, and a bright future. Even the beginning of an article from the New York Post states, “The North Carolina professor found dead in his home,
only days before he was forced to retire because of his racist social media posts — died by suicide, authorities said.”4 “Racist social media posts?” We have been conditioned to believe whatever we read in the paper especially if it is negative or bad about someone. The truth is his life began to unravel for responding critically to an email from a student who blamed the U.S. government for the attacks on 9/11.5 But does that make him racist?
I wonder how many of those people thought to themselves, “Could I be wrong?” In the book, Why We’re Wrong about Nearly Everything, Duffy writes, “Ignorance means literally ‘to not know’ or to be unacquainted with…Misperceptions differ from ignorance insofar as people often hold them with a high degree of certainty and consider themselves well informed…few people think of themselves as ignorant; they are answering what they believe to be true.”6 Even Lukianoff and Schlott mention that in times of crises, it is important to “acknowledge when [we] might be wrong.”7 It takes a deep humility for us to admit, we could not only be wrong, but we could actually be ignorant of the facts.
I was enlightened by reading Lukianoff and Schlott’s book because I had no idea cancel culture was that bad. While reading, I learned, cancel culture is all or nothing. It gives no room for change and growth over time, accepting responsibility, and learning. There are no opportunities for giving grace, forgiveness, and love. Cancel culture teaches people that it is okay to attack those we disagree with, find annoying, or dislike. Under the banner of accountability, we are accepting public shaming and bullying as acceptable behavior for navigating power differentials with no attention to values, research, or critical thinking.
Speaking of critical thinking, Lukianoff and Schlott did not express the advantages of the cancel culture. Even though there are most likely quite a few, three I can think of are:
- Cancel culture allows marginalized people to seek accountability where the justice system fails.
- Cancel culture gives a voice to disenfranchised or less powerful people.
- Cancel culture is simply a new form of boycott, a cherished tactic in the civil rights movement, to bring about social change.
Osita Nwanevu’s has written many articles for women’s rights and one of her most popular articles in Politics, she responded to cancel culture by saying “It’s all about women and minorities gaining power.”8 That is an excellent way to sum up the positives of cancel culture.
In conclusion, I do not have any answers, but I do believe my first quote by Beerel has a lot to do with forming the answer. We are in a crisis. Therefore “leading in a time of crisis requires multiple skills. These include a calm demeanor, the courage to speak to reality, an ability to find clarity amid chaos, a capacity for deep empathy, and sensitive timing.”9 Someone once said, “to whom much is given, much is required.”10 Spider man’s uncle Ben said to him, “With great power there must also come great responsibility.”11 We as leaders have been given much insight, wisdom, skills, self-awareness, scars, pain, intelligence and so on. Because of this we have great power. Simon Walker wrote in Leading out of Who You are, “Power can be spent, invested, multiplied, lost, given away, bought, sold, and so on…The question is: What are they doing with all this power?”12 Let’s continue to use our power to positively influence and change cancel culture.
- Annabel Beerel. Rethinking Leadership. 165.
- Emma Camp, “I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead,” New York Times, March 7, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/07/opinion/campus-speech-cancel-culture.html.
- Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott. The Canceling of the American Mind. 63-68.
- Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott. The Canceling of the American Mind. 63.
- Bobby Duffy. Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything. 8.
- Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott. The Canceling of the American Mind. 91.
- Annabel Beerel. Rethinking Leadership. 165.
- Luke 12:48.
- Spider Man, the movie, 2002.
- Simon Walker. Leading out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership. 38.