How About We Cancel Cancel Culture and Start Talking Again?


Cancel culture divides us and inhibits us from engaging in hard but necessary conversations. Differences in values, opinions, and worldviews serve as strengths we bring to discussions. Cancel culture meets deviations from popular opinion with harsh and immediate public censure. 

Cancel culture teaches us to dismiss vocal individuals with whom we disagree from our social circles, which disregards their humanity and silences their voices.

A concrete way to overcome cancel culture involves simply talking to each other again with curiosity and compassion. 

Face-to-face “carefrontations” allow us to ask questions, seek to understand, and move toward healing through connection and community. This process requires us to remain open-minded and open-hearted enough to see past hurtful words and deeds to the humanity within the other person.

sign on a building that says "solutions exist"

Before we figure out how to stop canceling each other and start talking again, it’s important to understand what cancel culture is and what it is not. 

Cancel culture is a form of social control at the individual level.

It solely intends to police someone’s speech and behavior, whether in person, on social media, or via the press, through shunning, social isolation, and resultant discriminatory treatment, such as restricting employment opportunities. We are talking about a form of socially sanctioned ostracizing.

Here is a personal example. After I initiated divorce proceedings against my first husband, I ran into a married couple we knew while grocery shopping. While the wife and I chatted and caught up, the husband stood at least 10 feet away staring unblinkingly at a single shelf in the wine aisle without acknowledging or approaching me. 

I realized his angry body language and refusal to look at me, let alone speak to me, meant that he disapproved of my actions in divorcing my ex-husband. Vermont is small. I knew at that moment that this man, who held a management position in my industry, would never hire me based on his judgment of my personal choices.

Bad Moms DVD and a glass of red wine

Cancel culture works to keep us afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. In my case, cancel culture allowed an insecure but powerful white man to put the power of his professional position behind his personal judgment of me. Maybe he realized that his wife might one day leave him and decided to punish me for it.

Cancel culture keeps us in line out of fear of enduring the humiliating and painful experience of being left out. No one wants to feel like they don’t belong, or be exiled from mainstream society. 

In one of its most insidious forms, cancel culture also involves projecting intentions onto someone else’s words or behaviors to spotlight yourself as more righteous than that person.

For example, one of our Vermont Moms writers received some online vitriol for simply stating that she disliked the excessive amount of candy collection and consumption involved in Halloween. What did she do wrong, you may ask? Her attackers projected that her blog post promoted diet culture.

Most parents agree that children receive and consume more candy around Halloween than any other time of the year. Further, candy, while delicious, lacks nutritional value, right? Given those two realities, can we acknowledge the critics of her Halloween post engaged in cancel culture to silence her critique of her children’s excessive candy binging? 

If these online critics bothered to ask the author, they would have learned that she indulges in chocolate desserts often and made her girls chocolate cookies for dinner before they went trick-or-treating. She puts intention and care into baking homemade, nutritious desserts for her children, but no one asked. Her critics did not engage her in a “carefrontation.” Instead, they canceled her, through outrage and then silence. 

young woman puts her hand up in front of her face in a pose that expresses  "stop"

Is this approach kind or sustainable? Do we really want to cancel someone who expresses an opinion we don’t agree with, even if that opinion doesn’t harm anyone or infringe on anyone’s basic human rights to health and happiness? Limiting Halloween candy consumption impacts the writer and her immediate family, and no one else. 

If that’s the direction we are headed as a society, then none of us are safe to express ourselves. Additionally, let’s think about who we AREN’T canceling, despite their more egregious behavior, and why we haven’t slammed on the cancellation brakes.

I mean, what are our criteria for cancellation? Who gets canceled? Women, especially those who initiate and follow through on divorces? Moms who want to limit their kids’ Halloween candy consumption? Female lead singers of beloved bands who make a public statement in favor of peace over war?

If we’re going to cancel people, can we also provide some critical thinking skills and consistency around it? That seems reasonable, right? Accountability for providing a reason why we canceled this person but not that one? Detailed discussions around the point of our cancellation and how it will ultimately benefit us and teach the canceled person the lesson we think they need to learn. 

Except how can that individual learn anything from us if we just shut them out without sharing our concerns about their words and behaviors?

As moms, would we ever do that to our own children? Or would we invest the time, energy, and compassion into conversations about harm caused and what could be done to repair the relationship?

Instead of participating in cancel culture, what if we tried to teach individuals who disagree with us or do us harm like we do with our kids? Powerful words that express sorrow or regret, not repeating the same mistakes, and actions that right the wrong go so much further in restoring connection, belonging, and community than cancel culture ever will. 

When I think about the best modern-day model of compassionate culture change, connection through conversation, and essentially all things the opposite of cancel culture, Ted Lasso always comes to mind.

Be curious, not judgmental

If we can be curious about other people and try to understand the feelings behind their beliefs, we can break through isolation and media indoctrination to genuine, authentic connection and caring. 

As I tell my kids, all feelings are valid, but all actions are not. When we validate feelings, sometimes magic happens, and the actions that harm others become unnecessary. When we feel seen and heard without judgment, we can see and hear others without judgment. That’s why it would benefit all of us to stop canceling and start talking again.

On this blog and in real life, I am a vocal proponent of sensible gun control. I hate living in a world where our children endure the daily trauma of entering public school buildings where they know they might be shot and where they have to practice active shooter drills to prepare for this possibility.

Despite my opinions, I engaged in a positive conversation with a family friend who keeps assault rifles in his home in case he needs to defend his three daughters. With curiosity, I inquired if he would accept a law that enables him to own these weapons, but never leave his home with them. He agreed. Coming from different positions, we found a way to meet in the middle – without canceling each other.

Now that I’ve defined what I believe cancel culture is, let’s talk about what it is not.

The rapid rise of social media and news outlets promoting disinformation has led to the distortion of our constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of the press. Holding individuals on social media accountable for hate speech and media outlets accountable for disinformation does not constitute cancel culture. Instead, it seeks to elevate accurate reporting of national and world events to ensure consistent sharing of information across media outlets, regardless of political leanings.

In my opinion, the dangers of cancel culture do not apply to people who boycott corporations engaging in illegal, immoral, or discriminatory business practices.

For example, I choose not to shop at Hobby Lobby because they deny access to reproductive health care for their employees. For friends and acquaintances who share with me, either through in-person conversations or social media posts, their love for shopping at Hobby Lobby, I inform them of my objections to their business practices. End of story. 

I’m not going to end personal relationships over my friends’ shopping preferences, though they might hear my objections every time they mention Hobby Lobby. A friend of mine once took me shopping at a Hobby Lobby because she felt she needed to buy a few things there. I accompanied her and purchased nothing. Our relationship remained intact.

I don’t shop at Walmart or eat at McDonald’s because their business practices keep full-time employees’ hours just low enough that they do not qualify for employer-sponsored benefits, like health insurance, and their wages low enough that they qualify for public assistance, including Medicaid-funded health insurance. These business practices mean that American taxpayers end up subsidizing these giant corporations’ employees who, while working full-time, still hover around the poverty line.

Finally, many of my friends and acquaintances love to eat at Chik-Fil-A, especially since there are no franchises in Vermont. When they find one out-of-state, they consider it a special treat. I refuse to eat there, even though it’s objectively delicious, due to the corporation’s donations to anti-LGBTQIA+ organizations and hate groups and the CEO’s vocal stance against marriage equality. Again, I inform my friends about my objections. End of story. Once informed, they get to make their own choices. I’m not going to cancel my friendships, but I am going to stand firm as a queer ally, in this small way.

Just as I do not believe cancel culture applies to corporations due to their relative power within our capitalist society, I also do not think the label of cancel culture fits when we hold powerful individuals (frequently wealthy white men) accountable for misusing their positions and causing harm, usually to women, people of color, minorities, and individuals outside the United States. 

For example, Matt Lauer lost his job as co-host of the Today Show after it became known that he engaged in consensual sexual activities with female colleagues. The power differential between Laur and the interns and assistants with whom he had relations created a coercive environment. He also disregarded a female colleague’s sexual boundaries, resulting in her allegations of sexual assault.

Cancel culture does not entail holding powerful people accountable for harm caused, often to women, BIPOC and queer folx, and other historically marginalized communities or individuals.

Cancel culture involves attempting to silence the relatively powerless on an individual level through erasure, condemnation, and exclusion in an attempt to make yourself look more righteous and to create collective fear around saying or doing the wrong thing. 

In my mind, one of the first and most egregious victims of cancel culture was Monica Lewinsky, and she definitely didn’t deserve it. Her TED Talk, The Price of Shame, is a brave and enlightening lesson on how we all need to do a better job of putting aside judgment and honoring each other’s humanity. 

How do you feel about cancel culture? I’d love to hear your ideas on how we can all do a better job of connecting instead of canceling.

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Miki grew up in Florida and felt skeptical (to say the least) when her parents announced their move to Vermont during her freshman year of college. She moved away a few times to escape the cold, but once she had children, nowhere else felt like home. Miki is a divorced mom of two fabulous kiddos. A few years back, she met and married the love of her life, and they (mostly) enjoy their adventures as a blended family together. Miki loves to read on her deck, see movies at the drive-in, and vacation to a beach at least once a year. 


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