During the time period when I was writing my book, I would occasionally strike up conversations with people telling them what my book is about and why I decided to write it. Just about everyone I talked to found the topic of race to be interesting but they were well aware that my viewpoints are not considered mainstream (even though most agreed with them). One of the questions that would come up occasionally was “Are you afraid of being canceled?” at which I always replied with “No.”
This question exists because cancel culture is real. I personally know people who’ve been targeted because their viewpoints were easily misinterpreted, because they used the wrong word to describe a product that was deemed “problematic” and because they are expressing viewpoints that are counter to the popular narrative. While I don’t think it’s as prevalent as we would think, it is real and this mindset of discarding human beings for speaking incorrectly seems to be growing.
First, I want you to understand my position: I am a free speech absolutist and I am very principled in this viewpoint. I’ve been to places on the internet where people say some incredibly vile comments that I completely disagree with and I would much rather that these viewpoints are able to be expressed than for all of us to suffer in silence when we want to raise our hand and question the world around us.
Whether you realize it or not, either yourself or people you personally know, are choosing to stay quiet on certain topics because they fear offending people, but how do you grow if you don’t occasionally offend? Curiosity can be offensive at times and criticality can feel oppressive but both are required for a society to balance itself out. If we don’t criticize anything, then all actions become plausible and permissible. If we don’t act upon our curiosity, then we will never understand what it’s like on the other side of the fence and we will continually think that our side is the only one of purity and clarity.
My viewpoints are no better than yours and vice versa. We all have opinions and we can all learn from each other to some degree. If we hide who we are, then we will never be seen. If we choose to censor ourselves, then our voices will never become valid in the discussion. What will ultimately happen, and what is currently happening, is that the extremists are dictating the conversation and people are reacting in fear of the repercussions from said extremists. The squeaky wheel not only gets the grease but they are always thirsty for more grease.
Cancel culture isn’t always the shutting down of a business or forcing a person to apologize for past indiscretions. Cancel culture is also someone being hesitant to press send. Cancel culture is when you purposefully express viewpoints that you truly don’t believe publicly in order to keep the peace. In many ways, cancel culture is the self-censoring and forfeiting of your voice for self-preservation. We all have something to lose and we are glued to the high-profile examples of those who appeared to have everything taken away from them; none of us want to be that person. If you are risk adverse, then you’ll act accordingly even if it means cutting off your tongue in the process. You’ll live today but you’ll suffer in the long term as you’ve been trained to comply rather than occasionally deny.
I remember a time when people were allowed to mess up, and they were given latitude to change their behavior in order for them to redeem themselves. Even famous people who had all types of issues were given second chances to change their behavior and were forgiven for their past transgressions. We had a very high bar for people who were seen as nearly irredeemable but today only the most talented limbo dancers can make it through without that label.
Cancel culture can only thrive when others are too afraid to speak up and the truth is that there are far more reasonable people than there are extremists but we are far too comfortable in our lives to say otherwise and risk our comforts. Cancel culture can only thrive because we have lost our ability to forgive and we’ve removed the platform for people to redeem themselves.
There are two famous quotes from someone that I truly admire, Martin Luther King Jr., that I am always reminded of when I think of what forgiveness is:
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”
That last quote is especially true. The people who are unwilling to forgive people are simultaneously unwilling to love others. As a Christian, I believe we are all children of God, and when you choose to discard someone, you are essentially discarding your brother or sister. We have all sinned in some way, but we are all still capable of being forgiven and living our lives as the redeemed.
When you hold on to animosity, you are holding onto the hatred which eats at your morality and blinds you from the potential good within people. You will start to see the world only in the binary, like good vs. evil, liberal vs conservative, Democrat vs Republican. But the world isn’t black or white, it’s mostly grey. Life is far too complex to ever expect people to reside in perfection, and expecting perfection is unreasonable. What is considered “perfect” today will not be this way in 20 years and so on. Culture changes because people change.
Because people change, redemption needs to be consistent. Forgiveness should always be on the table for our brothers and sisters. I personally know the power of forgiveness as someone who has been forgiven and someone that has forgiven others. Forcing someone to apologize for something that offends you is not for easing your emotions but to flex your power. Genuine apologies aren’t coerced, they’re willfully done.
Why do I answer “No” when asked about being afraid of cancellation? I am not afraid of being canceled because I know that in the long run God will always be by my side and also I am not afraid of losing my personal comforts because I’ve lost it many times before. Losing my ability to express myself freely is more uncomfortable than losing possessions. Having the freedom to be absolutely incorrect gives me a greater possibility to learn versus repeating comfortable narratives. Lastly, modelling someone who is principled, critical, and not driven by fear is of the utmost importance as a Father.
A father can only hope that his son is given the freedom to speak recklessly, offensively and forgiven for pushing those boundaries of uncomfortableness. A father can only hope that his son is given the benefit of the doubt by his brothers and sisters and the leeway to redeem himself. This is why it is important for us to speak up today, otherwise in the future, our children will cherish compliancy instead of finding value in an occasional act of defiance.