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Cancel Culture: Time to Cancel the Labels?

We just returned from 12 days in Wyoming and South Dakota.  For a city girl, it was a new experience – seeing the land as a living being.  Mountains pushed up from the earth, mines carved out of the earth. Animals roaming free and eating off the land.  Crystal-clear rivers and lakes refilled each year by snow melt.  The jaw-dropping vision of the Grand Tetons appearing around the bend of the road. The artistry of snow-capped mountains reflected in pristine lakes.

I have never done, or even thought of, a pilgrimage. But as I look back, that is exactly what this trip was for me.  It was a spiritual time.

We visited local museums in small western towns.  We read letters from real people describing the old west. We read about the Native American culture to whom the land is a spiritual being.  When we got to Devils Tower, we read the signs asking tourists to not disturb the prayer scarves that covered the trees on the trail below the tower, as they were put there by native Americans in prayer with their earth.

I thought a lot about what happened to the native Americans while I was on their land, and I continue to do so now, recognizing that Florida is rich with native American history as well.  A new opportunity for me to learn.

If I am describing an idyll, I intended to.  That is what I experience – beauty, peace, and life.

There was another side, though.  The wild west is, apparently, still wild.  Political opinions were omnipresent. Some were filled with hate.  Many were expressed as love.  But all were “dug in” to their own perspectives.

In Deadwood SD, citizens close two blocks of the road in the morning and stand watch as children walk to school.  We talked with them and mentioned how awesome it was that they did that every day.  A sweet lady in a neon vest explained that they treasure their children and families there….and added that she was disappointed that our country didn’t have that same values.

I had to process that because, while it sounded so beautiful, there was an undercurrent of commentary on the larger country that seemed somehow negative.

Then we walked on and went to breakfast at the Franklin Hotel on Main Street.  A restaurant patron proudly boasted his ten-gallon cowboy hat and his t-shirt that said “F**K Biden.”   The undercurrent I’d heard from the school guard jumped up and bit me.

That was in the first few days of the trip.  I saw clearly throughout the two states where they leaned politically.  That t-shirt design showed up on flags and banners. My wise husband kept reminding me that it was their right to display their sentiments. I don’t begrudge the public right to an opinion.  I am ashamed that our country has slipped into nastiness.  I remember being appalled by the Dixie Chicks’ statement about President Bush.  That was tame.

For the rest of the trip, I struggled to deal with the cognitive dissonance I was experiencing.  A few hundred years ago, non-native Americans saw an opportunity for wealth and moved in on land that wasn’t ours.  We removed those who lived on the land and proceeded to take it over.

Would we call that the ultimate “cancel culture?”

Yet here we are promoting the narrative of the right way to live – truth, justice, and the American Way – decrying those who, either by choice or by circumstance, live their lives differently.

Did we lose our humanity, or did we ever really have humanity?

It strikes me that our country was built on the premise of “cancel culture.”  Conformity to the core narrative is expected.  Anything else is ignored…or perhaps canceled?

We took over land that belonged to others. We embraced the bondage of those who we thought were less than us. We enact laws to protect the rights of everyone. Yet while we generally stick to the letter of the law, our social construct has found ways to continue to demand adherence to our narrative.

So as those who have not fit the narrative find their voice becoming stronger and stronger, their voice is now being accused of canceling the narrative.  At least it seems that way to me.  But I will admit that I am in a place of profound cognitive dissonance right now, trying desperately to make sense of where we are as a people, as a country.

Is there a way we could stop using provocative labels like “cancel culture” and get to the real issue?

A more profound question:  do we want to?

Carol Andersonhttp://andersonperformancepartners.com
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Oh Carol. Thank you for sharing this piece of your heart. I often find it difficult to process many of the same things you are struggling with.

    There are toxic and non-toxic people within ever generalized population. People obsessed with power and control. People who somewhere along the line “lost” their humanity. I’ve dealt with these types of people, as I’m sure you have too. It helps us to blame the toxic people of any generalized group to show they represent the whole. But they don’t … so it gets tricky.

    I believe the only way out of this human mess we are in is something the US was founded on. It may not have been a basis of the actual way the world worked then, but we get to change the narrative. Freedom for all. Freedom to tell our stories. Freedom to talk to others outside of our own generalizations. Freedom to learn from our mistakes. Freedom to hold ourselves accountable. Freedom to love.

    Will everyone get there? No. That’s not possible. But as more and more people learn that peace outweighs power, we’ll begin to grow. And change. And thrive. We’re allowed to do all of that.

  2. Carol–
    I think your second question is the more profound of the two: “Do we want to?” I would say “No.” If you haven’t seen this clip of Rep Tim Ryan (D-OH), it pretty well sums up the state of affairs in government right now: https://bit.ly/341MEe6. To the litany of things he mentioned, he could have added that we couldn’t get all legislators to support an anti-Asian hate crimes bill. Wha?

    “Cancel culture” is just a clever way of pointing fingers, and both parties do it, and those who support both parties do it.

    The real question is whether we want to sustain a democracy or not. I personally believe that there is growing interest on the part of many for an autocracy, or plutocracy. You have to ask yourself the question, if those “tourists” who had “entered” the Capitol on January 6th had found Pence and or senators and rRepresentatives, what would have happened? If they had been successful in stopping the certification, what would have happened?

    Our nation is about what it’s always been about: power – those who have it, and those that want it.

      • Carol — We can fight against it our level, as human-to-human but the fact is, our country has always been this way. It was built on inequality and racism, and people can throw as much red, white and blue at it as they want, but it doesn’t change the story. You referenced a couple examples yourself re Indigenous people.

        Related I think, I ran across this comment from a reader to an article in the NYTimes on the deportation of Dutch Jewish children to the camps during WWII – but who survived:
        Misplaced Modifier – Former United States of America
        May 18
        “‘I’m still here, the Nazis didn’t get me!’ This is incredible. I should feel uplifted by this story, and I would if not for the fact that there is something of our present situation lurking in these historic films. The same air of menace and human (mostly male) pathology pushing to assert their disordered dominance and malignant worldview on the rest of us. The Holocaust didn’t materialize out of nowhere. It was incremental. It happened gradually then suddenly. Let this be a reminder and reflection of what is happening right now in the USA and worldwide. If we don’t stop the radical right-wing politicians, the insurrectionists — the hostile takeover of government (and courts, business, industry, media, finance) by conservatives — now we may be headed down a path laid out for us by the psychopaths of the world.”

        • Jason Stanley tells the story of his grandmother who posed as a Nazi but in fact was responsible for saving the lives of thousands in helping them escape. Her greatest sorrow was that no one would believe what she saw with her own eyes. They preferred to believe that “it” couldn’t happen.

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