Cancel Culture Reimagined

Caution. The title may be a trigger for many. If so, this will only get worse. Stop reading now if you wish to continue living in a bubble where we only focus on the negative connotation of words and phrases – as society has so animatedly suggested we do. Buzzwords and catchphrases like cancel culture, woke agenda, quiet quitting, and countless others coined over the last few years are all injected with venom and bias to turn people against one another instead of fostering open and productive dialogue around why we feel a certain type of way, to begin with. But I don’t have the energy to tackle the world in this one post, so let’s focus on what we call cancel culture.

The term is more often used by those on the political right who want to believe their more liberal counterparts on the left are trying to erase parts of history. At face value, this would not be inaccurate either, which makes it a good place to start the dialogue. So rather than sugarcoat anything, let’s just agree (or agree to disagree) that we have become soft as a society at large. Every little thing seems to bother somebody, which spirals into a larger issue as others jump on the bandwagon. No one is expected to like everything, and that applies to all areas of life: food, sports, literature, locations, etc. If everyone agreed about everything, there would be no diversity.

We can also learn a lot from the experiences of others. Maybe you are afraid to go on that roller coaster at Six Flags, but after watching a child do it without fear and hearing about their experience, you decide to give it a shot. Conversely, maybe you were thinking of taking a dip in the ocean when a surfer paddles in and warns of sharks he saw a few feet out. Anyone in their right mind would immediately reconsider swimming. Imagine for a moment if, in both of these scenarios, the experiences of the child and the surfer were canceled out because the other party did not like the answer. The adult is angry the child is braver than them and continues making excuses for not going on the ride. The swimmer is annoyed they might have to stay on shore, so they ignore the surfer and swim out to their death.

Okay, the last one might sound extreme, but sometimes controversy is the impetus for making us think more critically. The same applies to history, hence the saying, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” But what happens when we erase all traces of history we don’t like? And no, this is not a political or racial issue. Canceling painful events of the past does not remove the impact they had at the time of their influence or on the present. If that sounds crazy, think about a more personal example. Imagine being allergic to peanut butter – like, deathly allergic. You ate it once, and the physical pain was so bad you want to pretend like it never happened, so you cancel out all memories of the event. What happens the next time someone hands you a peanut butter cup? Exactly. You eat it and repeat the cycle again.

If we cancel all the history we disagree with, at some point, all human history will vanish. In America, it starts with sensitivities around slavery and the Confederacy – both of which were admittedly a dark time in our history. But it happened, and we should remember it so we never make that mistake again. Otherwise, once all memories of those events have been canceled, we will turn our sights on eliminating the next thing we don’t like. Before you know it, Ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Greek cultures are gone. If you’re wondering why, it might be time to brush up on your history while you still can. In short, slavery and human rights atrocities were rampant in those societies. Yet we not only teach them to this day, we idolize those events in movies, books, and other mainstream offerings. 

But on the more personal side of cancel culture, we have the ingrained habit of doing it to others on a regular basis when it comes to heeding the advice of others, listening and understanding different perspectives, or simply taking constructive feedback – solicited or unsolicited (touch on how canceling solicited feedback is the worst b/c it shows you only asked for appearances). How many times have you stopped talking to someone because you disagreed with their standpoint? In the last few years, more families in this country have been torn apart over politics and religion than ever before. Instead of having constructive conversations about the differences in opinion and looking for some common ground, the matter is solved by severing ties with the other party.

This is why people fear speaking up. It is no wonder why most candidates running for political office are woefully unqualified and of questionable moral fiber. The environment is one that puts your entire life on public display and opens the door to attacks on all aspects of your life. Opponents will do anything in their power to cancel someone they fear has a better chance of garnering public support than they do. The same holds true in corporate America, where large companies ask employees for their feedback on what the company can do better in what are supposed to be anonymous surveys. No one believes they will remain anonymous; therefore replying with only positive or neutral answers no matter how much room there is for improvement.

The most pervasive form of cancel culture has leeched into the world of youth sports, where an increasing emphasis is put on the success of the individual youth organizations and their leadership instead of on the well-being and development of the children. Coaches and board members have lost sight of the reason parents want their children to play in the first place. While the exact reason may differ from one parent to the next, likely answers will all be along the lines of learning: teamwork, sportsmanship, discipline, etc. Yet we see horror stories all the time of what happens at youth sporting events. Everything from unruly parents fighting with officials to coaches putting their hands on players who were not listening or not performing up to expectations. This continues happening because the culture is ingrained and pervasive.

Two months back, I attended a board meeting for one of the local youth organizations my son plays for. I have always been actively involved in whatever aspects are needed to keep things running smoothly, from officially coaching to helping with practices and anything in between. I thought it would be a great experience to look behind the curtain and get insights on how high-level decisions were made regarding the available programs, pricing, and efforts to improve the overall experience. Boy, was I wrong. What I walked into was the convergence of a dog and pony show and a shit show.

After the board members read the meetings of the prior meeting and spent about forty-five minutes patting themselves on the backs about how well their individual sports were performing, the floor was opened up for attendees to ask questions and voice concerns. A group of catty parents (who clearly all came together with the sole purpose of hijacking the meeting) immediately launched into a litany of complaints against one of the baseball coaches. In all fairness, their claims were legitimate, but their approach was poorly executed. However, they were still paying members of the club with children who have the right, or expectation, of being treated fairly. The board agrees to investigate, the meeting is adjourned, and everyone goes on with their lives – until the next monthly meeting.

The entourage of complainers was not in attendance, leaving the room to consist of just the board members, myself, and two other parents. The minutes were read, the controversy was rehashed briefly for some members who had missed the prior meeting, and it was brushed under the table with no update on the investigation. One of the other parents raised his hand to keep the issue alive, essentially demanding to know what type of investigation was performed. In unison, several of them claimed to have reviewed the WhatsApp messages in question from the coach and cleared him of any wrongdoing. This was immediately followed by the dismissal of the complaint and the vocal standpoint that the whistleblowers were chronic complainers and would be moving their kids to another organization anyway, so no further action would be taken. Canceled.

In the month between meetings, I also began noticing serious issues with the coaching cadre in my son’s division, even though there was no overlap in staff. As the season wore on and our losing streak worsened, our head coach would criticize the players with negative reinforcement to the likes of “you are playing like dog shit” or “you swing like a rusty pack of Marlboros.” These are 10-year olds, by the way. Instead of showing up to coach the team, he spent evenings scouting out players from other teams and recruiting them to play for us. This resulted in our players who had been with us all season and attended every practice and game getting benched in favor of the ringers. It was like watching a professional baseball team with an outside shot of making the playoffs scrambling for talent before the trade deadline.

I used this as an opportunity to see if my opinion would sway the board since I was known as the furthest thing from a complainer and was one of the most involved volunteers they had. In a succinct five-minute presentation, I laid out all the issues I saw in my division, and stressed that I had every intention of keeping my son in the league so they could not just write me off. It was like staring into the eyes of the catatonic. No one spoke, no heads moved. They were either in shock or plotting my demise; it was impossible to tell which. Then, the meeting ended, and we were all asked to leave so they could remain in the ivory tower discussing how to handle the new concerns.

By now, most have probably figured out what happened, because the ensuing chain of events is exactly what prompted me to write this. When reading about others getting canceled, it is easy to disconnect and rationalize why it happened. When you watch it happen to others and don’t agree with their approach, you tell yourself it was their own fault. But when you go out on a limb in a diplomatic and caring way only to find yourself canceled as well, the stakes have changed. Many people don’t see the urgency in things until it hits home. Not to be extreme again, but how many people don’t think about their own health until they have a near-death experience? This was my near-death experience (over-dramatized for sure) that will not allow me to remain quiet.

The process of canceling me was more akin to a quiet firing, to get my shot in on the quiet quitting trope. Suddenly, the head coach stopped communicating with me regarding practices. When I checked my access to the team portal, where I was once listed as a staff member, I found my access had been removed in favor of another parent who chose to remain quiet. My son’s playing time was negatively impacted, and the entire environment became uncomfortable. All because it was easier for some to cancel the vocal minority than investigate for the good of the quiet majority.

Until we can be mature enough to tackle the hard topics and handle the difficult conversations, cancel culture will only get more prevalent. Without the self-awareness to realize there are multiple sides to every story and everyone deserves to be heard, the ignorant and tyrannical in power, whatever level of power that may be, will continue dictating what is acceptable. And no, they do not want our input. But that does not mean we should stop giving it to them. Use whatever means you have to fight back against the cancellations and pursue what you think is right. 

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