Enough is enough. We are destroying our ability to have nuanced conversations and simultaneously preventing talented people from leading.
Call it whatever you’d like – outrage culture or cancel culture; it is a destructive force in society. It searches for a horrid statement, deed, or event in a person’s past – as far back as his or her teens – blows it up, and characterizes the person solely by that one item.
Certain deeds (and statements) are so heinous that a person should be disqualified for life. But those deeds and statements are rare. We’re talking murder and rape.
Human beings err; it’s in our nature. All of us have made horrendous mistakes that we live the rest of our lives regretting. If you haven’t had your moment, you will. And it will be okay because good people will give you a second chance. You will regret your behavior, ask for forgiveness, and make sure not to repeat the mistake. Our communities grow when they are able to forgive and look past errors.
It’s so easy to disqualify someone. It also makes us feel good. It makes us feel like we’re standing up for the victim. But we can stand up for the victim without tearing someone else apart. We can protect people from danger and support victims while still forgiving mistakes and allowing talented people to lead.
Cancel culture extends to personal relationships as well. Friends, family members, and colleagues will say and do things that upset those closest to them. It’s bound to happen. Spouses know this more than anyone. But if outrage is allowed to be the ruling feeling, friends and family will be lost.
Think for a minute about how many great relationships you are personally familiar with that have been destroyed because outrage took priority over forgiveness.
What should our response be when a leader, rabbi, friend, or family member says something offensive? Rebuke and forgive. The Rambam writes:
“When one person wrongs another, the latter should not remain silent and despise him. Rather, he is commanded to make the matter known and ask him: Why did you do this to me? Why did you wrong me regarding that matter? If, afterwards, the person who committed the wrong asks his colleague to forgive him, he must do so. A person should not be cruel when forgiving.”
Once the person asks for forgiveness and/or demonstrates regret over what he or she has said or done – and assuming the act doesn’t indicate that he or she is a danger to others (in other words, we’re not discussing pedophiles and the like) – he or she should be forgiven. Remember, forgiveness doesn’t mean justifying what the person has done. It means recognizing that people err and grow from their mistakes.
Remember, G-d judges us based on how we judge others. If we forgive others, we create a forgiving society – one that rejects cancel culture and allows for mistakes and growth.
How do you know if somebody’s request for forgiveness or regret is genuine – perhaps he or she is just putting on a show? Absent certain obvious signs, it’s impossible to know. But ask yourself: Would you rather live in a world where everyone suspects the worst of you or where everyone gives you the benefit of the doubt?
Our Sages say that a righteous person gives everyone the benefit of the doubt.