FILE PHOTO – Cancel Culture. Photo by Markus Winkler
It was the 13th-century poet Rumi who said, “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates”: First, “Is it true?” Second, “Is it necessary?” Third, “Is it kind?” If Rumi were alive today he would undoubtedly add a fourth gate: “Is it woke?” In our enlightened 21st century, disregard this gate, and the others matter little. Like it or not, political correctness is today’s gate-keeper to human interaction.
Truth, necessity, and kindness once followed a definable standard, but are now subjective, a matter of personal opinion…fluid and ever-changing. What is life-giving to one is anathema to another, and there is no “agreeing to disagree” any longer. Either you abide by the day’s woke demands, or you are canceled, irrelevant…an eye-roll to those more woke than you. In a twisty change of fate, the older generations are now the apprentices in this pc charged environment. For them, it’s a minefield where the slightest misstep can end a relationship, a reputation, or a career.
A recent survey by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) found that in America’s elite colleges, cancel culture has forced the dismissal or resignation of hundreds of professors who may have made a mistake as simple as failing to use a person’s preferred pronoun, or quoting from someone who had been silenced by the school’s administration. Lawsuits argue that the damage done to these former educators is disproportionate to (much greater than) the damage done to the student(s) who complained. Many in academia are dying by targeted, friendly fire. The survey profiled these terminations. The vast majority were older, white males. No surprise here.
Komi German, a FIRE research fellow and co-author of the survey, stated that, “We should be deeply concerned that elite schools, our most influential institutions of higher learning, tend not to defend the free speech and academic freedom of their scholars.” It’s a troubling paradox where those claiming to champion tolerance, inclusion, and freedom of speech are using intolerance, exclusion, and the restriction of speech as their vehicle. In intellectual circles, it seems the woker you get, the less tolerant you become. Yesterday’s “safe space” has become today’s hunting ground.
In a very real way, cancel culture is a subversion of the natural order of things because it proposes that there is only one morally acceptable position on any subject. This type of restriction limits the individual expression it espouses to liberate. In the real world, we don’t all agree. Are we supposed to? Until now, we’ve been able to co-exist peacefully and productively with our differences. Walking the woke tightrope, however, leads to less interaction, less sharing, withdrawal, and ultimately surrender, capitulation, and loss.
Too often I find myself writing a post, but then deleting it as I try and second guess how it will be received and what alternate meanings it may be construed to suggest. Who might I offend? Who is lurking in the shadows, emboldened by the internet’s anonymity? I’ve stopped posting anything political, and pause at anything religious. Keeping the peace has become more important than sharing an insight or telling the truth. Is this the trade-off we want?
Censorship is nothing new. There have always been attempts to conform society. The power of woke is in its claim to decency, tolerance, and compassion. These values resonate with us all, but does the end justify the means? To me, that’s where political correctness loses efficacy. As many as it appears to empower, it claims. The punishment is immediate as the woke stampede has little patience for reeducation. “Unfollow”, “unfriend”, move on.
Kindness, forbearance, and understanding facilitated societal discourse in the past, and when someone crossed the line, forgiveness stepped in. That was the world I knew, but I’m a Boomer, the least woke of all generations. Boomers still consider respect as something you earn, not something that comes by entitlement. And we’re not as uncooperative, stubborn, or ignorant as some would suggest…we’re just less reactive. When we fail to use your pronoun, it’s not because we disrespect you…it’s just that we have a hard time seeing “they/them” when we’re talking to one person. The effects of decades of pragmatism recede slowly. Your friendship and well-being matter to us. Many of your concerns are the same as ours. We’ve waded through racism, sexism, differences in religion, politics, and sexual orientation. To our defense, consider fighting ageism (real term, real issue):
In the social science magazine, The Gerontologist, researchers looked at how older people were viewed by younger generations in Facebook groups. They found 84 groups devoted to the topic of older adults. Most of these groups had been created by people in their 20’s. Nearly 75% of the groups existed to criticize older people and nearly 40% advocated banning them from activities such as driving and shopping. I get it. We’re a pain. But be careful…this sleeping giant is only beginning to awaken to your awokening. The worm will turn as it always does, and what level of tolerance you give, you’ll receive. Political correctness can never cancel karma.
If we Boomers are caught in this new, woke world like a deer in the headlights with our foot in our mouth, cut us a little slack. Our good intentions could easily be lost in translation as we race to keep up. Forgive our occasional misspeaks. Apply your judgment as Rumi did… What is the truth? Is my reaction necessary? Is it kind?
Gates have a higher purpose than to keep people out. They are the passageway to let people in.
Marc K. Ensign