The past few years have seen the fall of countless high-profile individuals. From pastors to politicians, Instagram stars to Hollywood actors, authors to musical artists, and everyone in between—whether for misconduct or misalignments, for misspoken statements or various other missteps, these “stars” are being canceled faster than an unwanted email subscription.
I have mixed thoughts on our current cancel culture. While I certainly believe individuals should be held accountable for poor behavior, I’m concerned by our society’s quickness to shun an individual’s entire body of work, their message, and even the person him/herself. Even more frightening is our willingness to rewrite history to paint people and events of the past in an entirely negative light without acknowledging the nuances within every person and story.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why these public takedowns have become so prevalent. Voyeurism undoubtedly comes into play: we are a society in pain, and the leveled playing field that comes with witnessing the fall of the “higher ups” (people who appear to have risen out of life’s hardships) can feel satisfying.
I’m sure that virtue signaling is another contributing factor: societally, we have all become so concerned with our own appearances that we are terrified of being in alignment (or even being in perceived alignment) with a person who has fallen from grace. So we pile on the negativity, joining the ranks of those demanding cancelation, in order to distinguish ourselves from messages or messengers who have fallen out of favor.
On further reflection, I’m starting to think that the problem isn’t so much that we are tearing these people down, but that we have elevated them in the first place. We give them authority over our opinions, beliefs, shopping choices, and more as we listen to their Instagram rants or tune in to their podcasts or click purchase on whatever product they happen to be pedaling. We believe these people have earned the right to teach us simply because they have money or power or know-how to work the algorithms of social media or interpersonal networking. Unfortunately, many of these individuals have moved from being voices in the crowd to being granted full access to our heads and hearts—access that is quickly abused by under-qualified and overly-narcissistic “leaders” and “influencers”.
We are giving the microphone to people who lack the life experience, the wisdom, or the empathy to speak truthfully and compassionately into our lives, and we are quick to wrap our own identities into theirs. It’s an unhealthy codependency that results in high-profile scapegoats for the erasure of the many flaws we are too afraid to face within ourselves. It is easy to cancel a one-dimensional figure we have only known through our phone screens; harder to come to terms with the nooks and crannies of character and personality that come to life through true relationship with ourselves and those in our inner circles.
As I have witnessed the rise of Influencer Culture—and, subsequently, Cancel Culture—I have started to pay more careful attention to who I am allowing to influence me. While every voice deserves to be heard, not every one needs to be listened to or heeded. I want to be open to listening to the stories and experiences of everyone, but this does not mean that I will take every story and every message to heart.
The people I am most interested in hearing and learning from are those whose messages have stood the test of time, and whose actions and character are proof of someone who deserves a platform. Most of these “influencers” are not high-profile individuals at all, and would never want to be. They are humble and curious, careful observers who are slow to speak, and they are quietly living out their convictions without any concern for how many followers or likes or sponsor dollars their words will bring. These under-the-radar influencers are ordinary people with extraordinary ability to listen to God and heed His voice. Some are people close to me, others are people I have watched from a distance, some are authors and leaders that died long before I was born and whose works have shaped the lives of whole generations, not just trended for a few minutes on Twitter.
I have no plans of canceling anyone from my life. I fully believe in the freedom of speech, the importance of giving others the benefit of the doubt, and a cultural willingness to see people as more than one bad decision or even a history of mistakes. I believe in accountability, but also in second chances. And I believe in the power of hearing from everyone, even people whose views are diametrically opposed to my own. But “listening to” is far from the same thing as “being influenced by”, and for me it has become increasingly important to make this distinction.
As a follower of Jesus, I ultimately want Him to be the only influencer I have placed on a pedestal, because only the Lord has earned such a position. As I place my full trust in Him, I pray He will open my eyes to the individuals He is using to speak to me, and protect my heart from those who do not deserve to influence my life.