I’ve started this article so many times and always end up frustrated. Hear me out. I promise this article does not mention politics except in this very sentence (important disclaimer because most ‘cancel culture’ articles are extremely leaning one way or the other).
If someone you know personally has offended you, what do you do about it? What is the best way to approach the situation? Be honest with yourself. Do you text all of your friends and tell them to no longer make contact with this friend? No, that’s unkind and not helpful. Do you make a social media post about it with hopes of destroying their reputation? No, that’s dramatic and makes you look childish. Do you reach out to their boss via Twitter and tell them to fire them? No, that’s absolutely ridiculous and over the top. Do you reach out to that person to try to have an open discussion with them, explaining why what they did offended you and with hopes to move forward after the discussion? Yes. A million times, yes. If something deeply bothered you and you truly have the desire to make the situation better, that is the course of action you take.
Hopefully, during that conversation, the offensive person will acknowledge their actions or words and apologize. Hopefully, you will forgive them and the two of you can move on, both a little more mature from the interaction.
But what if that person isn’t open to having an open discussion? What if they yell at you and try to belittle you, saying that they don’t care and that you’re wrong to accuse them? What if they don’t apologize? Does that give you a reason to move forward with the public exile, the social media posts, the meeting with their boss? No, of course not. You accept what you cannot change, in this case, someone else’s mind. You find peace within yourself knowing that you have spoken your peace, that you’ve acted with respect, maturity, and kindness. You may choose to personally distance yourself from them and that’s okay. But just because they’ve done something offensive to you doesn’t mean they meant to - and if they meant to, it doesn’t mean they can’t change. It most certainly does not mean you should wish the worst upon them - why? Because you are a mature adult who recognizes that everyone in life deserves respect, kindness, and love - and the offensive person will never learn to improve if you yourself don’t set the example. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Don’t succumb to the hate- be the example of love that the offensive person might need in their life.
That is the way to handle situations of offense with someone you know personally, but how does this work with someone who has offended you who you don’t know personally, perhaps a celebrity or a business owner? You can’t necessarily have that one-on-one conversation with them. So, what do you do? Let’s run through the options again. Do you text all of your friends and tell them to no longer make contact with this person? No, that’s still unkind and not helpful. Do you make a social media post about it with hopes of destroying their reputation? No, that’s still dramatic and makes you look childish. Do you reach out to their boss via Twitter and tell them to fire them? No, that’s still absolutely ridiculous and over the top. Do you write them a kind and mature personal letter and send it, acknowledging to yourself that you most likely will never get a reply but at least you’ve done all that you can? Yes, you can do that if it helps you feel better - just make sure you treat them as you would a personal acquaintance, with kindness and respect. Write a few versions of the letter, only finalizing the one that you would be proud to show to your grandmother because it is swarming with strong points, clear ideals, and compassion. And if they never respond to you, which they most likely will not find peace within yourself knowing that you have spoken your peace. As Mother Teresa famously stated, “People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.”
I know this is hard - it goes against human nature to forgive someone who hasn’t apologized to you. But forgiveness always does more for the person forgiving - you - than it does for the person being forgiven. It will make you feel happier and lighter in your own life and your happiness is far more important than holding a grudge.
Maybe you’re not really the confrontational type - maybe someone offends you and you don’t want to confront them about it. If this is the case, you should process it on your own and you should let it go. If a person doesn’t know they have offended you, they cannot know they need to apologize and it’s unfair to hold them to that standard. Again, you can distance yourself from them if you feel that will help you but don’t hold them accountable for something they don’t know they did.
Unfortunately, these days, when a crowd tries to cancel an individual and the individual releases an official apology, the crowd scoffs and says, “do better” - oftentimes regardless of how sincere the apology is. We all know that behind any official apology is dozens of hours, various paid professionals, hundreds of dollars, and countless combinations of words trying to address each concern, each attack, and each accusation - and instead of the crowd seeing where the person is trying to improve, trying to understand, trying to truly apologize, they roll their eyes and move forward with the cancellation. In these cases, it is clear that the crowd does not want actual change - if they did, they would accept the apology and move forward, hoping for a better future. A cancelation does nothing to change the world. An open conversation, a sincere apology, and hopeful forgiveness do everything to change the world.
I know the crowd makes ‘cancel culture’ look like the best solution, but I can assure you it’s not. The crowd believes that ruining people’s lives by getting them fired from their jobs, losing their companies and friends, and exiling them from society will teach them a lesson. They think punishing a person for an offensive word or action will make them feel better. And maybe it does- but only for a time. Those people will look back on their lives and instead of seeing whose lives they improved, they will only be able to count the lives they worsened. That’s not the kind of legacy anyone should want to leave.
Yes, it’s easier to lash out. It’s easier to comment on something rude on social media. It’s easier to take out your anger on someone else (whether they are deserving or not). It’s tempting- it’s quick, it’s immediate, it’s public - but you can do better. You can be better. While it’s not easy to forgive, it’ll make the rest of your life easier if you learn how to forgive others instead of carrying that anger with you.
This is where I advise you to follow the ideals of Martin Luther King Jr. and opt to use love to drive out hatred in the world. I encourage you to live by Mother Teresa’s words, forgiving, being kind, doing good, and giving your best anyway.
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I’m not telling you to do anything. No, I’m asking you with a sincere and pleading heart. Please, do better - do better at forgiveness, at kindness, at loving others no matter who they are. Do your part to make this world better. I know you can do it. I have so much hope in you and in our future together.