If you participate in cancel culture, maybe you're the toxic one.

“She said this. It hurt me. She’s toxic, and now she’s cancelled.”

Over the past few years, and especially throughout the course of 2019, the discourse on “cancel culture,” primarily noticeable online, has been rampant. If you’re unfamiliar with what exactly this entails, this is my non-expert attempt— a field guide of sorts—to explain it at the baseline level. I’ll also endeavor to explain why the entire phenomenon is as counterproductive as it gets.

Cancel culture is the contemporary social ideology that, if someone allegedly perpetuates or engages in speech or behavior deemed controversial or problematic, they deserve to be #cancelled. The premise behind it actually makes sense. We’re supposed to hold people accountable for what they say and do, especially in a world where abuse of power dominates nearly every platform. We should not disregard anything that impedes our right to feel safe in a society often fueled by pure hatred. As a victim, you have the right to feel hurt.

By all means, speak up for what you believe. Take the necessary measures to counter any threats to your sanity or health. But resorting to cancelling is the last thing a mature person capable of critical thinking and developing productive courses of action should do.

We notice cancel culture on a macrocosmic level: in the high stakes of politics, celebrity slip-ups, and corporate mishaps. Public figures are constantly being put under a spotlight for “foot-in-mouth” moments— situations, oftentimes accidental, that put their reputation in question. Consider the backlash H&M received recently, sparking criticism regarding unnecessary racial tension. Or perhaps you can think of a better example— influencers, actors, musicians—the list of recent incidents is far too exhaustive to count.

But what most people fail to realize is that call-out, “outrage” culture isn’t only present in the public sphere. It’s markedly interpersonal. It’s already leaked into the human interaction we experience every day: on college campuses, tight-knit circles of friends, in microcosmic social circumstances. I know because I live it every day.

This is mob mentality at its finest. Instead of actually addressing issues, seizing the opportunity for forward-thinking education and genuine intervention, we shut out all possibility of constructivism. Personal vendettas—the notion of ad hominem— take center stage. This almost inevitably spirals into accusations of blame, singling out, and permanent ostracization that could’ve been avoided through rational behavior. 

No one is born with infinite wisdom. We have to be cognizant of this, or we will only continue to perpetuate the building of unneeded barriers. In some ways, cancel culture feels like the death of valuable skill, avoidance of problems, and choosing “flight” rather than “fight.” If we’re not actively practicing the procedures of conflict resolution— something we are taught in elementary school— well, I hope you’re prepared for regression.

I’ve seen very heartless speech being broadcasted to the masses. And no, that’s not something I’m advocating. But the retaliative speech wielded by those wounded by the message in question is oftentimes even more heartless than the original issue. We often neglect to analyze the intentions behind the decision that went wrong.

I’m advocating a return to intellect. To coherent argumentation and unbiased evaluation. So much of cancel culture is defined by self-righteousness so profound that the angered individual becomes so blinded by ego that they become fueled by narcissism. Suddenly, they’re always right. When they are backed up with support, suddenly everyone is right.

If you are a vocal and unapologetic participant in cancel culture, constantly berating other people for their insensitive lack of perfection, you are also the problem. The person being challenged for the credibility of their character might be a huge problem, but by choosing to make value judgments out of spite or frustration and then proceeding to boycott them, you are also a contributor. When you call people out and run away from the issue at hand, pointing fingers at supposed toxicity without proposing ways to counteract it, you are a willing participant in your own toxic behavior. 

Sit down with people. Explain your position without rageful affectation. But ultimately, let them advocate their own. The only way to address contentious behavior is allowing for a space to collaboratively delve into the matter in a “nonpartisan,” objective way. 

I might be an idealist, but I truly believe that we all are capable of tangible change. Even the most flawed worldviews can be amended through action. Only action.