Empathy and the Cancel Culture
The cancel culture seeks to marginalize someone with whom a person or group disagrees. The motivation to do so is they have an unwelcome point of view; even dangerous. They make offensive comments or engage in objectionable actions.
As I have blogged about before, the goal of the cancel culture is to call out individuals whose words or actions are being questioned. Typically, the group calling out finds those actions offensive. They seek to gain support from the larger community for ostracizing the individual and basically shunning them from society. Groupthink is behind the cancel culture fueled by the idea of political correctness.
Being judgmental of others underlies the act of canceling. When we are judgmental, we decide that we’re “right” and someone else is “wrong.” It significantly decreases our ability to show compassion toward others.
The cancel culture is a barrier to empathy. A person who possesses the core ethical value of empathy would not try to shut down the ability of another person to voice an opinion. Instead, they would listen and understand another person’s point of view to better learn what they are feeling and why. In other words, “walk a mile in their shoes.” The cancel culture makes it more difficult to establish a connection with another party.
Empathy builds strong relationships. By isolating those with opposing points of view, the cancel culture shuts down one form of dialogue that can build strong relationships. We can’t do so if we don’t listen to the other party and understand what drives their behavior.
Canceling others tends to be an insensitive way to deal with words or actions deemed offensive. I’m not saying you should feel sorry for someone with whom you disagree but should be open to understanding what drives their opinion—their circumstance in life—which is a prerequisite to convincing them why they are wrong.
Empathy towards others is a precondition of an ethical life. The Golden Rule states to treat others the same way we would wish to be treated. It’s illogical to think people would not want to be understood; instead to be judged. Understanding, compassion, care, and concern for others are foundational values in building strong relationships, and that what empathy is all about.
Canceling another is a form of incivility, another ethical value that has fallen by the wayside in these troubled times in America. We no longer listen to others with the intent to engage them in civil dialogue and help them to understand opposing points of view. We seek to stifle their rights to free speech. Yes, the other party may be engaging in hateful speech, but they have a Constitutional right to do so, if they are not inciting violence.
It has been said that we have an empathy deficit in society today. What’s needed is to experience things through the eyes of another. To put yourself in their place and think about what motivates them to say and do the things they do.
In his seminal book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey identified one habit that contributes to effectiveness stated as follows. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” The problem here is you are formulating your response without first truly listening with the intent to help another to see a different point of view: To engage them in dialogue and help change the way they approach things. This means to have cognitive empathy, meaning to understand what is going on in somebody’s else’s mind; to feel their pain.
Imagine, for example, someone posts on social media that they do not believe in the concept of White Supremacy. An opposing group supports the notion that White Supremacy is inherent in American society and even believes critical race theory should be taught in our schools, a concept that holds America is a racist society. They take to social media to cancel the disbeliever. The best way to respond is to convince them why White Supremacy is a danger to society, as many believe, not shut them down and with it any attempt to change their point of view. I’m not agreeing with the concept of White Supremacy, only illustrating a way to deal with the cancel culture.
Some argue that canceling is a form of censorship—that is, “when we don’t like what someone is saying or a position they hold, we ‘cancel’ them by shutting off their access to speaking or sharing their thoughts publicly.” Censorship in any form runs against the free speech right of Americans that underlies our democratic system of government.
We need more empathy in society. More empathy contributes to civility, another lost art today. America cannot continue to go down the road of canceling others without risking becoming a society where we all cancel others for various reasons.
I am looking for volunteers to participate in a survey about the cancel culture. Please click on this link to do so.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on August 3, 2021. Steve is the author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.