Cancel Culture and Bullying

There is a lot written about bullying and cancel culture right now. What we need to understand is that NONE of this is new.

1) This isn’t new

People have been bullying since people have been people. It’s a learned behavior. No one has to teach it to kids. Some kids just figure out on their own if they are mean to others, they can get their way.

The learn this on their own. They do it because it works. And they do it because if they can exclude certain people who disagree with them, they can get their way.

I don’t say this to discourage you, because there are effective ways to counteract bullying. I say it because it’s true. Bullying is an effective way to exclude or “cancel” people you disagree with. This isn’t new. Cancel culture isn’t new and often the people complaining about cancel culture are guilty of cancelling others themselves.

2) Bullying has always been about trying to determine who is in and who is out

One of the main things bullies do is they try to exclude people from the group they control. This ability to decide who is “in” and who is “out.” Is powerful. We humans are tribal, which means, we have an instinctual need to belong to a group. Even if we don’t like the people in the group, we still want to belong to it.

When someone starts to label some people in and some people out, they are triggering a REALLY deep instinctual need we have to belong. The fear of not belonging is how they are able to bullying.

The crazy thing is, there are often enough people who are out, that they could create their own group if they wanted. This is often what happens in middle school and high school.

Back to the topic at hand – cancel culture and bullying. Bullying is a form of cancel culture. It’s only effective if we allow bullies to silence us. In most cases, they don’t actually have the ability to silence us, we just let them silence us through fear.

3) Free marketplace of ideas. The hysteria is just that hysteria

In reality, all people have equal opportunity to speak their minds. There are consequences of course. If people don’t like your speech, they are free to tell you. And bullies LOVE telling you they don’t like your speech. And they bully to try and silence speech they don’t agree with. And yes, I just described every schoolyard bully ever.

The thing is, even on the schoolyard, we have choices. We can choose to be bullied into silence, or we can choose to continue speaking our truth. The audience witnessing this will decide what they think. They may side with you, or with the person you believe is bullying you into silence.

My point is that the hysteria over cancel culture is just that – it’s hysteria. The reality is, in the free marketplace of ideas, you aren’t guaranteed an audience. People may decide, they just don’t like you. That’s part of the risk of speaking and being. Not everyone is going to like you. Even if you are awesome, there will always be someone who hates you. ONLY YOU decide what to do about the people who hate you. Do you focus on them, and try to get them to like you? Or do you ignore them and focus on the people who like you? I know what I choose, focus on the positive.

But if people who are saying unpopular things are saying they are being cancelled, the fact they can tell you that, tells you they are not. People are free to speak their mind without being arrested, but they can’t force free people to listen to them.

4) Don’t dismiss critiques as cancel culture. Find out if it is a valid critique first.

Finally, it’s our responsibility, as individuals, to listen to critiques. No one is perfect. It’s entirely possible that someone criticizing you is trying to be constructive. Meaning, they are trying to help.

If you believe things that aren’t true, someone telling you that isn’t true is probably trying to help you. So … if you find yourself being criticized, don’t just brush off those critiques. Consider the possibility that the other person may be right and you might be wrong. Figure out what is true.

This is hard for most people to do. None of us like to admit we were wrong or that we believed something that wasn’t true. But … smart people, at least take the criticism as possibly constructive and look into whatever it is to see if it is, or not.

After all, it’s entirely possible that everyone hates you for a really good reason.

A Little Secret

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I get hired by companies to provide harassment training. Often, I am brought it because there is a problem person in the organization that is seen to be bullying everyone else.

That person, almost always thinks, they are the victims of bulling themselves. They are indeed acting badly but they are doing so out of self defense. And they are not listening to others give constructive criticism as a result.

My Advice?

You don’t actually have to defend yourself from bullies. Seriously, you don’t. Be a good person. If someone says, you are behaving badly, consider the possibility that you are and make an effort to adjust your behavior accordingly.

How can you tell the difference between bullying and constructive feedback? Bullies are trying to exclude you. They are setting impossible and arbitrary standards. Constructive feedback is designed to help include you and make you part of the group.

Exclusion bad – inclusion good. Hope this helps.