Socially Thinking: The perils of censoring what we don’t agree with

Cancel culture.

There is a phrase I am sick of hearing. Like if I hear it one more time, I’ll vomit.

The thing is, there has always been a type of cancel culture. People have always tried to bury books, phrases, movies, and even people they didn’t agree with.

What’s different in 2021 is the mainstream acceptance of such practices.

Almost every day I read a story about this person or that person calling for the “cancelation” of not only ideas, or books, or movies, or TV shows, but of people.

It’s hard not to want to remove a person from society when you believe that person is saying something that can harm people, but it’s not our decision to remove a person. That’s up to God and sadly there are a lot of comments on the internet about permanently removing people from the world who we don’t agree with. One step down from homicide (which luckily isn’t the norm, yet), is the call for silencing opinions or thoughts that differ from our own.

Most of us can agree that murdering a person who disagrees with you is morally unacceptable, but more and more people are developing the belief that silencing thought, such as those presented in the form of the written or spoken word, is morally acceptable. That doesn’t sit well with me.

What bothers me more than calling for books or shows to be canceled, or even people to be canceled, is the call for history to be canceled.

There is a lot of history most of us would prefer not to remember: slavery (in all countries, but for Americans, slavery in our nation), the Holocaust, the atom bomb, the Trail of Tears, and the treatment of the Indian and South African people by various nations, to name a few.

I don’t like a big part of our history but if we don’t remember it, we will repeat it.

If we had pretended the Holocaust had never happened, isn’t it possible that another group of people would have perpetuated the same hatred all over again? Those who want to stop it also wouldn’t have any past reference on how to fight against it, or the signs to watch out for.

And slavery. My gosh. If we pretend that never happened, won’t we then have to pretend we learned nothing from it — like how it is abhorrent of humans to act like we have the right to enslave another person, or an entire group of people, based on our prejudice against them?

Statues are being torn down, books are being banned, voices are being silenced, and sometimes history books are even being rewritten. Offensive language is being eradicated from classic books because “words offend people.”

Yes. Words offend people. That’s life. People get offended. It happens every day. And most of those people get offended and move on with their lives.

Over the last several years, I’ve made choices for my children to shut off certain voices or take away certain television shows based on what those voices say and shows present. This was a personal choice to protect the minds of my children. Unlike others, I didn’t demand for the voices I objected to to be silenced. I encouraged others to walk away from a streaming service I felt was harmful to our children and others, but I didn’t start a petition or organize a protest to completely shut down the entire service.

I suggested others make up their own minds about the service and while I sometimes glared at people who kept the service despite my warning, self-righteously judging their choice (yes, I freely admit I do this, but it’s usually a brief judging and I quickly get over myself), I didn’t demand they align their beliefs with mine. My reasons are very personal, and I can’t discuss in detail what those reasons are because it would mean revealing secrets that aren’t mine to reveal.

My husband and I simply decided to not give money to a company that goes completely against our values in most of their programming.

My question is why others can’t do the same?

There are a myriad of books out on the market that contain words, scenes, and discussions that I don’t agree with, but I’m not calling for those items to be canceled or banned. It’s hard for me to even write that because there are so many books or movies I want to steer people away from—books and movies that promote wrong ideas, that perpetuate violence against people based on their sex, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

The issue with canceling those books or movies, however, is that we then cancel the thoughts of the people who wrote them. While we might not like their thoughts, we need to know the thoughts of the people who wrote them so we can teach our children to stay away from those ideas.

One thing that comes to mind when I think about how so many in society today want to “hide away the bad things of the world” is how we I used to calls at the newspaper I worked at asking us not to publish certain police briefs.

“People don’t need to know about drug deals, overdoses, rapes, child molestation, domestic incidents,” some would say. “It’s depressing. Depressing news just makes us more depressed.”

Depressing news absolutely makes us more depressed, but that doesn’t mean those depressing things aren’t happening simply because we don’t hear or read about them.

If we don’t know these issues are going on, then how do we help the people who are suffering from them? Societal issues will not disappear simply because we don’t talk about them anymore.

A person is welcome to tell others why they won’t buy or read a book, but demanding others not be able to see the material is where we step into the territory of destroying free speech. Again, this is hard for me because, like I mentioned above, there are some really vile, twisted, messed up movies and books out there that I would prefer people didn’t see. I believe some movies, books, or other media cross the line into endangering people, especially if they involve child pornography or encouraging sexual assault of men, women, or children. Then we need to consider some sort of guidelines, maybe even along the lines of removing them from places where they are easily accessible. Freedom of speech really does only go so far in those cases.

The cancel culture (which can be found in both liberal and conservative circles) have gone so far as to have news channels calling for cable networks to take off other news channels, with both news channels pointing at each other and calling each other liars. Neither channel is worried about so-called lies being spread. They want to stomp down “dissenting opinions.”

Let’s be honest, all the mainstream media is full of lies now. Journalists are so lazy they either only get half the story or make up stories to sell papers or make money from views and clicks. By the way, when they only get half the story, they rarely take the time to find out the rest. That would take effort and time away from their tweeting and posting photos of themselves on Instagram in their latest pair of Ray-bans.

In a recent Sunday Bookends blog post I shared I was picking up a book by Andy Ngo (last name pronounced ‘no’) about Antifa, simply because it is being boycotted. Antifa, for those who don’t have time to investigate politics, is the so-called “anti-fascist activist group” burning down cities on the west coast who have actually become the fascists. They prefer to be called anarchists, I believe.

What I didn’t explain in the post is that I don’t know if everything Ngo has written is true, but deciding that should be my decision, your decision, whoever’s decision. It’s up to us to do the further research, to investigate if what we are seeing, and reading is true. I have doubted Andy’s stories, even some of his videos, but then I looked into stories from people who were with Antifa and left before they became more violent, or others who have also researched Antifa, and their observations do align with Ngo’s many times.

I feel that Antifa’s efforts to ban Ngo’s book by protesting outside bookstores is wrong as much as I would feel that someone protesting to ban a negative book on anything is wrong. There have been thousands of books written slamming Jesus, my savior, and while I abhor some of them, I have never sat outside a bookstore and screamed at owners and employees demanding the books to be removed. There have been books written about the state of journalism today that I know are outright lies (like the idea that “journalists” today are objective in any way, shape or form), but let people publish them and let the public decide if what they write is true or not (insider tip: they’re not).

This week I started loading my Christianbook and Amazon cart with books that people are now demanding be removed – books that have the “n” word, or speak poorly of any ethnic community, or refer to homosexuals in what some feel is a derogatory manner. I don’t know if we will get so far that those books will be removed from retailers, hidden away to pretend life is rosy and perfect all the time and no one ever called a black person a derogatory term, but I’m buying them up in case they are.

I want all that language in those books that people say is bad, even though I don’t like them. I want those scenes of black face left in. I want those racial stereotypes left in. I want those sexist remarks or terms left. The creator wrote them, for whatever reason, left them in, portrayed them, and there was a reason for that (maybe because the creator was racist or sexist. I don’t know). I want those works of fiction, of non-fiction, or those movies left intact so I can discuss with my children why those were put in in the first place, why they were wrong or right, the motivation of the author or creator to put them in and what the mindset was at the time they were written or created. I believe every person has the choice to read those books, see those movies, make up their own minds about them, even if I strongly disagree with what is in them. That’s what freedom is about.

Books challenge our thinking. Movies challenge our thinking. That’s what they do and should do.

Language or depictions in them might make us uncomfortable but, hey, guess what, so might anything in life. We can’t remove everything from life that makes us uncomfortable or offends us, so why should we remove it from our art?

Incidentally, books I am picking up right now that many are calling for being banned are Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (which was one book that opened my eyes when I was a child to the horrors of racism and segregation), To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and 1984 by George Orwell. We are currently reading Lord of the Flies, which I know some have called to be banned in the past. (Personally, I am banning The Awakening by Kate Chopin from ever being read in this house because I absolutely hated reading it for my Senior AP English class. No other reason. Just because it was torture for me to read.)

I don’t know why we all can’t just seem to realize we can use the parts of books and movies we don’t agree with to educate our children, and others, that these are not the right words to use or the right way to talk about people, or the right way to treat people. Or we can decide not to read or show these books to our children until we think they are old enough to understand them and put them in context.

Instead, people want to erase the nastiness from the world and pretend it never happened.

We want to pull ourselves into sanitized bubbles but, I’m sorry, that’s just not possible. Once sin entered the world it was here. It is here, and no amount of stomping our feet and plugging our fingers in our ears is going to stop it. The only way to stop it is to educate ourselves about what is out there and then combat it by speaking out in love about what we think is wrong.

That speaking out in love thing? Well, that’s another blog post for another day because that one is sorely needed, but rarely done and, sadly, can be easier said than done.

Socially thinking: Phubbing. You may not know what it is, but I bet you’ve done it.

Phubbing.

Maybe you’ve never heard the term, but I bet you’ve done it.

And if you haven’t done it, then it’s been done to you.

According to Psychology Today, phubbing is “the practice of snubbing others in favor of our mobile phones.”

We can all do it, without meaning to, but then there are those who do it because they are simply so addicted to their phones they don’t know how not to do it.

I knew someone with an addiction like this at one time. Honestly, I got tired of being shown I was not important by how often the person surfed on their phone while I was sitting in front of them. They could not stop touching it. It became very clear to me I was a complete bore to them and nothing I said mattered when they even started answering phone calls from people in mid-conversation with me and proceeded to start a conversation with that person.

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I remember them saying when they picked up the phone, “No. No problem. I’m just at a friend’s house.” And then continued to have a conversation like I wasn’t there for the next five to ten minutes.  They hung up and went back to scrolling Facebook while I sat across from them, bewildered why they had stopped by. The same person couldn’t even handle walking from the soccer field to our cars without scrolling and showing me cat memes as we walked while I tried to ask about their day.

When I brought this up to the person, finally, after a year of being treated this way, their answer was “I’m not going to apologize for trying to escape the stresses of my life.” I said, “Was I the stress? I was sitting across from you when you were doing it” I didn’t get an answer to my question, but this person wasn’t going to apologize and saw nothing wrong with their behavior so we haven’t spoken in about nine months, not that we were “talking” before then either.

So what are we saying when we do this to people? We’re telling them whatever is on our phone is more important. Cat memes, the news, the latest fashions, celebrity gossip, politics, and trite comments on social sites are all more important than the person across from us. In that case, why is the person across from us even there? Why are we even there?

I think there are those of us who would crawl inside our phones and live thereto escape life if we could. I get it. Sometimes life really is stressful and we feel like we have to medicate to handle it. Sometimes we medicate with drugs, sometimes with alcohol, sometimes with food and in this day and age, we medicate with escapism. No matter what we use, we are filling our lives with things that really won’t actually fill the voids in our lives or the holes within us. And while we are medicating ourselves we are pushing away people who really care about us and what to actually communicate with us and we are pushing away God.

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All photos by Lisa R. Howeler

I’ve fallen into the trap of burying myself in social media to avoid the stress of life. That may be why I accepted the phubbing that was done to me for so long, but when it hit me how much I was missing by being completely absorbed in my phone – in things that will not matter in the long run — I put the phone down. I looked around me and realized how pervasive technology addiction had become in our society. Sitting at soccer practice one time, I looked down an entire row of parents, all sitting, their necks bent over their phones, their fingers simply scrolling, while their children practiced soccer in front of them.

None of them talked to each other or looked at their children. They were like robots working for the tech companies, lining their pockets with their views and their purchases and their “hits.” It made me sick to my stomach and it made me sick to my stomach that that had been me at one point, though for a more brief time than some.

The sad thing is that eventually the person who you chose your phone over stops trying to interact with you and also stops caring if you interact with them.

That’s what happened with the person in my life. I realized they could care less that I cared about them. They were more interested in their phone, in what they could pin on Pinterest, and what photo of their latest diet they could post on Instagram. I stopped wondering how they were, what they thought, or what was going on in their life.

Honestly, I do still wonder about the person from time to time, even pray for them, but the idea of trying to engage them in friendship again gives me a sick feeling in my stomach. The human part of me doesn’t want to be rejected again but  I also realize now that if that person had cared about me, they would have listened when I told them I felt their phone was more important than our friendship, instead of saying “I’m not going to apologize.”

Hopefully, the person has since resolved this issue and now shows family and other friends they do care about them, by putting the phone down when talking to them.  I know where my place was in their life, thought, and wouldn’t step back into that place again for anything.

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photo by Lisa R. Howeler available on Lightstock.com

The one good thing that came from that situation is it showed me how addicted I had also become to social media and how it was causing me to ignore people and activities in my life that were not only more important but more edifying to my overall life.  After the repeated phubbing done to me, I worked harder not to do it others and I also cut back on social media, even deleting my Facebook account for four months. I realized that social media-based relationships were completely unfulfilling to me.

Since then I’ve decided to try to implement some changes to my life to help reduce technology addiction, as well as phubbing. Some of them I had already implemented two years ago.

Changes I plan to implement or have already started to (some of these were suggested from an article about phubbing on Healthline, others simply from various sites, and others simply from my own ideas):

  • Making meals a place where no phones are allowed (we already do this at my parents when we have Sunday dinners, only allowing my dad to take a photo of dinner before we start, if it is a particularly lovely looking dinner that is);
  • Leave my phone behind for some trips, though this always makes me nervous because I worry someone will need to reach me in an emergency;
  • Institute a no-technology hour which has become even more important for me to do now that my son has his own phone and is showing signs of addiction. We’ve done this before and have really enjoyed the quiet, the increase opportunity for creativity and the way we can connect on a deeper level as a family;
  • Make people charge their phones or devices in a central area of the house, which will encourage them to engage with others when they come to hook up their devices. I have not tried this yet, but since reading about it earlier today I absolutely want to try it.

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Changes I made two years ago (maybe more), include:

  • No Facebook app on my cellphone, so the temptation to look at it while talking to someone in person is gone. I’ve also stepped this up and removed Instagram and YouTube as well. Sometimes I even shut the sounds off to keep the dinging notification sound of texting from triggering dopamine and causing me to want to see who has sent me a message. There are actually only two people who message me regularly: my brother or my husband. Any other messages I receive are people who want something from me and then ignore me all other times of the year.
  • No looking at social media at least two hours before bed (somedays I do better at this than others, especially if there is a breaking news story unfolding.)
  • No devices or computer at all, other than my Kindle, up to an hour before trying to sleep (this works only when I’m not working on a book because I tend to write a little before bed since it is one of the only times during the day I have to write.) I really like this one when I stick to it because it helps me slow down my thoughts and relax more.

We can implement all the changes to our technology habits we want, but until we look at how our choosing our devices over people we love affects the psyche of those people, we probably won’t implement any changes.

We have to ask ourselves, in the long run, will what we read on Facebook matter when we are looking back on our life at the end of it? Will the latest cat meme, the latest celebrity gossip, or the latest political rant by your dad matter at the end of your life if it caused you to lose your connection with someone in your life who wanted to connect with you in person?

I think for most of us, the answer to those questions will be ‘no.’