Cancel Culture: Why Incomplete Systems Can't Foster Constructive Outcomes

August 26, 2022

Cancel Culture: Why Incomplete Systems Can't Foster Constructive Outcomes

“The carrot and stick are pervasive and persuasive motivators. But if you treat people like donkeys, they will perform like donkeys.”—John Williams

I recently read this article from Entrepreneur the other day, written by Robin Buckley, PhD, and it got me thinking. It’s called "Cancel Culture Is Lazy. We Need Revision Culture Instead”. There has always been a cancel culture; back then, it simply went by a different name.

The Scarlet Letter, a well-known book published around 1850, depicts a situation very reminiscent of this culture. It was already prevalent at the time. The Internet has made it simple for people all over the world to see a trending issue and contribute t a eir opinions to the discussion, which has only made it more obvious today, regardless of whether they know all the facts or not.

In my recent interview with René Rodriguez, he told me something along these lines: It is a courageous act to be a dumbass online nowadays because when you do something stupid, everyone knows it. And they will call you out.

That is true, and it is also problematic. It is easy to “cancel” people that we don’t agree with. The majority of people don’t have time to dig deep into formulating an opinion based on facts, so they go with feelings. It is very easy to jump into a quick opinion of something with little evidence.

But a culture established in an incomplete system wouldn’t produce constructive outcomes.

Yes, you’ve discredited this person for something wrong they said or did (probably even years ago), but what if the person has already reformed their ways?

Since everything lives forever on the Internet, you might have been calling someone out for a mistake that they no longer live in their current life.

The flip side to this “cancel culture” is that we demand a person to take responsibility for something wrong they did (whether it is current or way back in their past), but we don’t feel responsible for basically ruining the person who might have been trying to reform and improve their old and wrong ways. But what has your action (canceling the person) contributed to their personal growth and to society?

Did it make that person a better person than they were? Did canceling that person make society a better place? Or were you just ruining someone’s life and contributing more negativity to an already anxious society?

That is why Buckley called “cancel culture” lazy. I think it is just human nature.

The fact is, for us humans, our number one concern is survival. Our brains are wired to preserve. It is also why our brains try to simplify complex processes by automating categorization and making decisions. Our habits of how we perceive and react to the things we see online are the problem, and most of the time, we don’t even realize that our thought processes are broken, or need improvement.

As leaders, we need to be mindful of how we think, react, and behave based on the data we see. Are we diving deeper into the issue, or are we just making snap decisions based on superficial evidence?

In her article for Entrepreneur, Buckley also offered an alternative solution to “cancel culture”. She called it “Revision Culture,” where basically, she encourages the nation to provide avenues for these people to “cancel” and reform their ways to make a positive change in society.

It takes more time and action, but it is a culture that educates people.

Cancel culture is incomplete. We were used to the carrot and stick approach: we cancel behaviors we do not like, and reward behaviors we like. But people are not donkeys. There are more ways to teach and empower someone than just rewards and punishments.

As leaders, we want a culture that builds, not a culture that just cancels our people who make a mistake.

It takes a lot more intentionality to build a culture that helps empower others and makes them thrive.

People make mistakes. How we deal with those mistakes establishes the culture we want to set in our teams, our businesses, and our families.

Take some time to reflect on this: Are you being intentional with how you lead? Are you digging deep into issues of concern, or are you just being reactive to what you see? And are you establishing a culture that builds or destroys the people you are leading?

Thank you for reading A Brilliant Tribe.