By Lucy Johnstone – Guest Contributor
I’ve been thinking a lot about cancel culture, and the way it is applied in real life, and wanted to follow up from Emma’s article about internet cancel culture. Cancel culture refers to the way we’re collectively ending the careers of YouTubers or taking away the livelihoods of small businesses, based on past undesirable behaviour, sometimes years and years ago, but what about in our non-electronic lives, when we cancel each other as individuals?
When friends and family stop speaking to each other and literally cancel another person out of their lives. Permanently. It’s hard for me to write about this because I’ve been on the receiving end and boy did my mental health suffer for years as a result. I’ve been cancelled. It really hurts. As a species, humans are social creatures and to be rejected by your group is a deeply painful experience on many levels.
The things I did, to be fair, were not really that bad. I never abandoned a kitten or forged a passport or stole someone’s car, but nobody is perfect and in the past I’ve done stuff I am not at all proud of. I’ve hurt people’s feelings, mostly accidentally. I’ve made some big mistakes. I’ve been selfish. I’ve made decisions without thinking the consequences through. It was all very, very uncool. Here’s the thing though. I can honestly say have learned from every mistake I’ve made. I’ve grown as a person because of the challenging times in my life. Isn’t that one of the beautiful things about being a human?
Just like YouTubers and small business owners, my past stuff ups don’t define or dictate the person I am today. Where is the line between forgivable and unforgivable? They say the best apology is changed behaviour, but if you cut a person out of your life because of something they’ve done, how will you ever know they grew from what happened? You’ll never get your apology up there on the moral high ground, enjoying the temporary satisfaction of being the wronged victim. A word to the wise, if you hear a story in which someone you’ve known for some time and understood to be a person of integrity is suddenly described to you as a home wrecking harlot, a thief or a dreadful, evil, deceptive harpy, have the maturity to step back and analyse the situation from more than one point of view, throw in a little empathy and remember there are always two sides to every story before writing them off and contributing to cancel culture. You’re better than that.
I’m not suggesting we all become spineless doormats who accept multitudes of shitty behaviour from other people. I’m saying it’s a choice whether or not to despise someone indefinitely. You never have to hate another human. Even if they’ve made bad choices, even if your values don’t align with theirs, even if they’ve done something really incredibly offensive to you. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean reconciliation, or that you accept repeated harmful behaviour from another human. Forgiveness is the practice of empathy, and ultimately, you are the one that benefits. Holding on to resentment is scientifically proven to be harmful for your health. Letting go of bitterness and grudges has been attributed to everything from lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression, a stronger immune system, improved heart health and a longer, happier life.
If none of the above has convinced you that forgiveness is valuable, or even possible, I challenge you to google “famous acts of forgiveness”. There really are some amazing stories of forgiveness throughout history. Real tear jerking stuff my friends. To forgive is one of the ultimate acts of empathy, humanity and self love. I don’t know if I’ll ever be forgiven for what I did. Sometimes people prefer to cling to the role of wronged victim, rather than let go of resentment and move on. I forgive myself though. Remember that the empathy you find so easily for other people must also be extended to yourself. I forgive myself for the mistakes I’ve made, and I forgive every person who has ever done me wrong. Life’s too short to hold grudges. Do yourself a favour and let that shit go. Your future self will thank you.