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Especially in this age of online platforms, it is easy to cancel someone or some organization. It only takes a few minutes on the keyboard to create momentum for the accused to go out in public for his unacceptable behavior and to build support for the repeal of the unit. In the short term, the life of that person (or company) can be significantly changed not only in the present but also forever. Online messages are permanent and can be repeatedly called, traced and used against a person.
What if that person grew up, matured, or learned? What if that organization reformed, took on new leadership and built new structures that reflected change? The ultimate question is whether the past should continue to define that person or group if their behavior reflects revision. Certainly, through the culture of cancellation, the past defines a person now and forever and is a quick retaliation for unacceptable behavior. But it does not create authentic change and refinement, it gives people opportunities to evolve.
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Education against punishment
Here’s an example: A 13-year-old eighth grader used racial abuse during sleep. Another girl videoed the moment and put it on a social networking site. The 13-year-old apologized after some of her friends confronted her, but by then, the video had gone viral all over her city. She was eliminated from the elite lacrosse team that has been there for three years. Her acceptance at a private high school was canceled. Her older siblings have been harassed on social media, with some calling for her sister to commit suicide. The local store her father owned for 15 years was boycotted and closed. His mother was asked to take indefinite leave from his role as vice president of local business.
Not only was the 13-year-old girl canceled, but her entire family was canceled.
So what is the purpose of abolishing the culture? Basically, this is punishment – retaliation for statements or behaviors that are unacceptable by social standards. In many examples, the goal seems to be to make the person irrelevant. This is a fair consequence for those who do not demonstrate forgiveness or acceptance of the negative consequences of their behavior. But what about individuals who show genuine remorse?
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Consider the case of Alexey McCammond. At age 27, he was appointed editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. Two weeks later, she resigned as gay and racist tweets she wrote when she was a teenager became public. He has already apologized and deleted the tweets in 2019 and once again apologized when he appeared. Regardless, she was canceled for the terrible comments she made 10 years ago. But the question arises as to who was the result – the 17-year-old who made the comments, or the 27-year-old woman who has already repented on more than one occasion?
If cancellation culture is not about punishment, is it about education – teaching a person what is unacceptable and allowing them to grow up?
It doesn’t look like this. If a person is excluded, there is no opportunity to educate that person. Let’s go back to the 13-year-old lacrosse player. She and her family were canceled. Without connections, this girl may have fewer opportunities to grow from her ignorance. She was alienated from her social groups. As a team member, as a student at her chosen school, and as an acknowledged member of society, she lost parts of her identity, which may have contributed to her positive growth. Cancel culture laziness right here.
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The power of revision culture
What if society could use these opportunities to change toxic opinions and perspectives instead of abolishing them? McCamond could work with national organizations to use publication as a platform for dialogue to fight homosexuality and racism. With the lacrosse player, contact her with local black leaders to have conversations with one another. Seek time to volunteer at organizations that support BIPOC youth. Present her learning experiences to a team of school administrators and local black leaders for potential team and school reinstatement.
This approach takes a lot of effort, but it also gives you the opportunity to create lasting change. Instead of teaching people to hide their prejudices (which creates covert racism), this kind of approach allows them to confront their own racist views and perhaps even change them. This avoids the wandering of people without any positive outlets, which can easily lead to social groups fostering racism. In essence, the culture of cancellation can inadvertently add to growing divisions in our society rather than finding ways to bring people together.
Related: SideStep Cancel Culture: 3 ways to maintain your reputation online
How organizations can nurture a culture of revision
There are two ways to create a culture focused on refining rather than abolishing organizations:
- Create protocols. In some cases, the undoing of culture occurs before the investigation is done and the evidence is found. Establishing a clear protocol in cases involving allegations of inappropriate and unacceptable behavior is necessary to allow for a clear procedure in an emotionally-charged situation. If the allegation is based on facts, the protocol should include how the organization addresses the situation and the individual. Under what circumstances is a person expelled from the organization for lack of remorse or conduct? Under what circumstances are rehabilitation opportunities allowed and what does it involve? All decisions must be made before any circumstances arise to avoid sudden actions.
- Install resources. This is an essential component for creating protocols around revision culture. Corporate leaders must establish genuine connections within their networks and community. First, it creates an organizational culture that reflects the importance of conversations and interactions with individuals of different backgrounds. Leaders promote a culture of learning from others to build bridges rather than secretly or openly creating divisions. Second, when leaders have these connections in their networks, when toxic situations arise, these connections become resources for change, providing potential avenues for growth and learning.
Finally, revisionism is a long-term solution to change. Instead of abolishing the punishment of a culture that blackballs the individual, the revisionist culture may focus on education and rehabilitation of the individual or organization. It offers healing rather than exacerbating hate and ignorant cancers.