There’s a difference between cancel culture and learning from mistakes

By Mallory Harris | Staff Writer

In today’s society, it’s very easy to be known for saying the wrong thing. New terms are popping up everywhere with new ideas, and I’m glad to see us growing as a society towards inclusivity and toleration. However, there is a line between being “canceled” for using ignorant language and learning from past mistakes to become better.

Merriam Webster defines cancel culture as “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” Typically, these actions are seen on social media platforms and are directed at public figures or big-name companies. Whether the action included offensive language, inconsiderate propaganda or simply a misunderstood comment, all of these have come under scrutiny by the Internet.

An article by The New York Times reviewed responses from students across the nation about cancel culture. Their responses ranged from the culture being ineffective, problematic and a plague to stories emphasizing the importance of growing from one’s mistakes. In most cases, I agree with these students in thinking that instead of calling peers out when their comments offend, maybe call them in to talk in private.

Examples of these practices can be seen in a classroom debate or discussion by talking further after class about better ways of expressing a specific viewpoint or idea. On social media, instead of adding to the long thread of negative comments, try reaching out directly and calmly talking about the problem. Not only can these actions spark new ideas, but listening to another perspective — whether you agree or not — holds more benefits than one may think at first.

The way we call others out today requires quick turnaround on apologies and insincere attitudes about meaningful issues. Without having clear communication and the opportunity to learn, the ability to have lively discussions and honest feedback will be lost. And so, there are also many examples that show how those in the public eye learn from their past and correct their errors in a truthful matter.

Recently, Dr. Seuss Enterprises held a panel of experts and educators that decided to cease publication of certain books that portray people in hurtful ways. According to the Associated Press one book portrayed an Asian person with a conical hat and holding chopsticks while another showed African men barefoot with grass skirts. With these books being originally published in 1937 and 1950, it’s clear that at the time Seuss’ words weren’t understood as derogatory.

Five to seven decades later, times have changed, and society has learned to be better. Dr. Seuss enterprises understands that fact and wants to show support for all families and communities. They aren’t intending to change the creative ways Seuss spoke to children, but want to be a leading company of inclusivity and growing from its past.

Not only do I see a similar approach in Baylor’s walk to understand its history, but I appreciate the concern and intention behind the programs it’s created. While Baylor is not a perfect institution, I think the conversation series and the Commission on Historic Campus Representations are the first steps for students to see learning and growing from the university.

Overall, it’s important to notify those who have offended or hurt others through their words or actions, but do so in private. Forcing fake apologies out of those who stumbled on large platforms does nothing in the movement towards understanding the greater issues at hand. Cancel culture has taken its toll on society, but with the opportunity to openly grow and learn from others can impact individuals in large ways.