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In an age of cancel culture, our task is to create a ‘context culture’

A protester holds a sign at a rally to defund the police outside of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 15, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

In a world that has been anxious over COVID-19, the economy and now cries for equality and social justice, where can we find hope for a more a more positive culture of diversity, equality and health? What can we do to alleviate the suffering, judgment and unrest that is currently plaguing our world?

We are living in what has emerged as the “cancel culture.” I actually have friends who have lost friends simply because of a differing point of view. You may have experienced similar. Have we really come to this? Wouldn’t it be better to have a “context culture,” where we follow some basic rules of decorum and keep our friends?

In hopes for a context culture, I have assembled five points that may be helpful. I don’t have all the answers, so my hope is that you will take the good in this and move the ball forward. Some of my points are already being discussed in the public square (virtually of course), but I wish to add to the conversation to bring about more healing to our souls and the country.

Move forward, but don’t forget the past. I have been enjoying some history books about World War II and the “Greatest Generation” of which my parents were a part of. I have had to put the books down from time to time and wipe away tears as I contemplate the tremendous price paid for my freedom. I don’t think I appreciated it enough and hope all generations can appreciate the eras of their parents and grandparents. Yes, we can and should improve upon the past, but not without considering the lessons that history has already taught us. Many of the soldiers who returned from WWII did so with some prejudices of the enemy. They were harbored for many years. When you read about the experiences for example of Iwo Jima, you can understand their mindset. Even so, our nation stepped into the vaporized midst after the war ended and those veterans were a big part of the rebuilding effort. Healing takes time.

I remember being in Korea in early 2018 at a time when there was hope for harmony between North and South Korea. The hope was palpable. On the way to Korea I read of the atrocities perpetrated upon the people of Korea by the Japanese armies during their annexation of South Korea during WWII. Unspeakable things — and as it turns out, Japan had never offered an apology since the Korea war, and there are still great walls of mistrust between the countries. On this occasion, at the peace conference we were attending, the former prime minister of Japan, Yukio Hatayama, stood before this great gathering and said to the people of South Korea “We will say ‘I’m sorry’ until there is no need to continue to say ‘I’m sorry’.” It took many, many years for this expression of sorrow and hope for forgiveness to be uttered.

Perhaps some will never have a heart to forgive — but until dialogue is had where raw expressions can be uttered, how will we be able to move forward? The past, and lessons learned from them, are key to moving forward to bridge the gaps of understanding. Rather than tear down statues that represent a past we don’t agree with or appreciate, what if we left them up as a memorial marking history of what was, and now what will be? Let us take the time to know of the past, appreciate the lessons learned (both positive and negative) and allow the voices of generations past to have a voice at our table of hope.

Allow diversity of thought. There is way too much barking and not enough talking. If someone has a differing point of view, there seems to be a chaotic contempt toward the other’s view — regardless of what it is. Everything is expressed in tweets or other types of sound bites. Guess what, you cannot have a dialogue in 280 characters. If the view you express is different than the barking voice, then it is lost in the noise of the bull horn. Sometimes when I witness such contempt, I want to get between the voices, set a table of ice cream between them and just ask if we can talk without screaming, and listen without judging. The techniques (if you can call them that) of screaming and causing riotous havoc are simply not the formula that moves us forward. The screaming voice may move the sentiment of the moment, but not in a permanent direction that anyone will appreciate years from now.

Perhaps some have felt discounted for so long that their voice is accompanied by loudness and antics that are sure to get attention — but to what end? Even so, we can all decide to lower the temperature and appreciate a calm discussion. Put down a table with some chairs and get out the ice cream. No one will always get 100% of what they desire; some are even lactose intolerant. But they make ice cream for those maladies these days, so there is no reason not to sit down and partake. What if we all get some of what we desire and agree to move forward in the new age with a hope of an even better future?

Listen with intent to know the heart of those we engage with. I opine that I fancy myself as a boomer with a millennial heart. As such, I have been a defender of the great millennial and Gen Z approach to life. Labeling isn’t the proper approach to understanding; so, when I hear my own generation cast labels on the younger generations that are not positive, I at first cringe, and then I need to speak my truth. Often, others of my age are surprised to hear my defense, but soon enough, they can see the value in seeking first to understand and then to be understood. Is this so hard? No, not when you are striving to live values that include love, acceptance and diversity in all you seek.

I have a friend in New Zealand who is working on his Ph.D. at Auckland University. He needed space, he needed clarity, and he needed peace. His solution was to move into his car. Many judged this move as irresponsible. But for the months he chose to do this, it changed his perspective on life so much that he can now relate even more as he makes his mark in his chosen degree in social justice. I listened to my friend tell his story and stood up (my wife and I both), hugged our friend and supported his decision.

Everyone doesn’t take the same road — thank goodness. We don’t even arrive at the same destination, but our journeys mean something, and it behooves us to listen with our heart, without judgment, as a way to move beyond the moments of misunderstandings as we appreciate the diversity among us. This is a big part of celebrating diversity.

Don’t sit silently by while the world changes. Make sure your voice is heard, knowing your life does matter — what you think matters — what you do matters. How is our voice heard when we are not inclined to jump to the calls of social media? What if we don’t have the proclivity to join the peaceful protests? While peaceful protests are a part of civilized dialogue to express a point of view and a call for change, and social media is a platform for many, I believe we can also make a world of difference in how we dialogue with our family and neighbors — in the context of actually talking and forming whole sentences (not limited to 280 characters).

In my own family, some have expressed their viewpoints so loudly on social media so as to drown out any possibility of civil debate between us. I am afraid the cancel culture is alive and well within my own family — but it ought not to be. Our family is very diverse, but all our voices matter. Our sphere of influence may only be one — ourselves. But we can make a difference by incorporating the suggested points in a positive and proactive way.

We are not always right. I know this may be a surprise to those who spend hours watching cable news, but it is as true as good cheese (whatever that means). I decided a long time ago that while I may be conservative in my thought process, I am not owned by any political party and I can, and often do, disagree with the talking heads. Am I right or wrong because I disagree? I don’t know. But I do know that I am moldable enough to recognize that there are two and often more sides to what is discussed, and we ought to be humble enough to accept this simple truth — “We are not always right.” Further, I am more interested about truth based on people than ideas, so it takes time for what is right in my mind to be lived out by those professing it — don’t be too quick to accept the latest sound bite as truth and be willing to not be right.

I hope these points will expand our conversations and dialogue to develop a context culture we all can be nourished and made whole in. These times of COVID-19 will pass — there will be a cure and there will be a normalcy of life (though changed a bit forever) that returns. But I hope the drive for social and equal justice never fades in time but is empowered by inculcating the points I mentioned. We do have control of how the conversation is had — if we do our part and have that conversation.

Steve Hitz is a co-founder of Launching Leaders Worldwide (www.llworldwide.org), a nonprofit organization that provides young adults with tools for personal leadership and faith. He is the author of “Launching Leaders: An Empowering Journey for a New Generation,” and “Entrepreneurial Foundations for Twenty and Thirty-Somethings,” available at Deseret Book or Amazon.