I spent most of my time as a 27 year old having a quarter life crisis yet again.
With a pandemic, an election, and surprises at every turn, 2020 turned out to be quite the effective vision test.
As I questioned both the institutions that I grew up in and the mentors that inspired me as a young person, as they reacted to (or failed to react to) spikes in anti-asian hate crimes, it was as if the very foundation upon which many of my core beliefs were built upon, came into question.
As people, we idolize those we look up to. When they support causes we approve of we praise them. Alternatively, when people say something we disagree with, we are quick to crucify them.
This phenomenon has been referred to as “cancel culture,” and as I’ve thought about this concept, I’ve struggled to find my own bearings on the matter.
As a young person growing up in the church, we were taught at a young age that idolatry was bad.
We were told that money and celebrities were not meant to be worshipped or idolized.
Ironically , we were just as guilty of idolizing theologians, artists, and money as the “other” that most sermons were about.
In church, we really like broad sweeping generalizations, because it helps us to categorize things. We talk about “sin” as if it is just a list of behaviors that we aren’t partaking in and we choose which Bible passages to take literally and which ones have “varying interpretations.”
This sliding scale of morality and religious superiority is one of the most troubling aspects of religion in general: we see the flaws and shortcomings of those around us, but we overlook our own fallibility.
Now while I had grown accustomed to seeing this kind of behavior inside the church, I was surprised to see this level of hypocrisy outside of the church walls.
As I pondered cancel culture, I realized that this sliding scale of religious morality stemmed from a similar place.
In past years, I’ve become increasingly vocal about causes I’m passionate about while also being a little too honest about my own struggles and vices.
For the longest time, I tried to keep my personal struggles under wraps in order to protect my reputation. Besides, telling people about my struggles seemed like a surefire way to be written off as a failure.
Maybe five years ago, I began to tell my inner circle about my misdeeds. It was comforting to know that even though they might not condone my behavior, that they still saw me as someone who was worthy of being their friend.
As time passed, I realized that so much of my own growth took place in the midst of me dealing with the messier parts of life.
In fact, it was my personal depressive and suicidal seasons that taught me how to be present with those who were struggling through those same seasons. It was my own unfaithfulness that gave me the grace to extend to those in similar situations. It was my own deconstruction of faith that gave me the ability to empathize with those who had experienced hurt at the hands of the church.
My blogs up to this point had tried to simplify universal truths and combine what I had learned with anecdotes. I tried to promote positivity but I definitely wrote about vices in a very vague and very personally removed fashion.
As my own therapy began to increase in frequency, I began to sneak my own vices into my writing. I tried to shed the vagueness that I grew up with in church and I started trying to write about life as it is as opposed to how it should have been.
It was terrifying when I started, but with each blog I began to get a clearer picture of what my goal was.
As third generation Chinese-American growing up in the valley, I have always been confused about who I am. I was homeschooled until high school and when it was time for me to start high school, my family relocated to a completely different city. I tried to find meaning in religion for such a long time, but the institutions were cracked and tarnished with financial mishaps and affairs… it felt irresponsible to cling to an ideology that openly condemned certain sexuality choices while rampant and out of control sexual misconduct cases were a dime a dozen in church..
As puberty hit and the pre-college grind began, I struggled with emotional and mental health. I quickly found unhealthy coping mechanisms that prevented me from having to process and healthily deal with my disappointment and fear. After a few years in college, I reeled from the failure of dropping out of the school of engineering and switching majors. Not long after I graduated I struggled through being laid off, working a shitty temp job, and just being relatively clueless about my direction and my place in life.
I say these things not to evoke pity, but more so to communicate the fact that most of my life has been me wishing to be seen and heard while not feeling like either of those needs was being met.
Our culture is fixated on the illusion of looking successful and so nothing is really ever wrong. We are told that no one has time to listen to the hard shit in our lives and so we struggle alone while only the really fucked up people go to rehab, therapy, and AA meetings.
You take this stigma towards human problems and you magnify it at a societal level and boom, cancel culture is born.
When I was in high school, my aunt and mother were super into these TLC shows. The dysfunctionality in Jon and Kate Plus 8 was so obvious from day one and I remember not understanding why this was entertaining to anyone. I felt like I was watching and participating in the undermining of this marriage…
Somehow, we find comfort in labeling other people as more fucked up than we are. Yeah we might have some addictions or some other issues but good lord we definitely weren’t as bad as those other people...
As I processed having all my dirty laundry on display for everyone to see, I realized that my ability to antagonize the “other” decreased substantially. My conversation responses began to veer away from “you should do this” or “you better be careful and not do this.” I began to listen more actively while devoting more energy to empathizing and affirming rather than preaching at people from my moral high horse.
I found my relationships with people deepening the more honest I was with them about the real day to day shit. I realized concurrently, that I had a lot more in common with everyone than I had initially thought.
It was hard to believe that I had spent so much time lying about who I was when the best conversations I ever had were literally about the taboo and stigmatized topics.
The fact of the matter, is if we were all under surveillance 24/7, we would all be canceled.
We have all said terrible things.
On top of this we have all done terrible things.
I mean just imagine if someone taped you being an ass to that service worker.
Or imagine if someone dug up that archived ig post.
Better yet, imagine strangers sitting at your dinner table listening to all your off color comments.
Takes a little bit of the self-righteous wind out of our sails doesn’t it?
And that’s just the thing, just because we are flawed and make mistakes doesn’t mean that nothing we ever say is valid. And just like that rule applies to us, it applies to everyone else as well.
Cancel culture asserts that people should be judged by their most regrettable moments and comments, but I challenge you to look within and realize that if we were personally judged by the dumbest things we ever did or said, we would all be ostracized.
The hardest part of processing cancel culture for me was the role of accountability.
Growing up in church, oftentimes the phrase “we’re all human and fall short” was the solution band-aid that was slapped on every shady thing that happened. Oftentimes nothing would change, but that phrase would be used as a cover up and explain-away.
I think it’s really important for us as individuals and as a collective group to demand investigation and changes to institutions that foster environments in which harmful behavior is rampant. It’s incredibly uncomfortable and it is difficult work, but it’s how we can move forward while changing the spheres that we exist in.
This starts with us, because we need to be aware of our own vices and growth points. This self-awareness gives us the necessary empathy to call out people in love rather than choosing to just decry and cancel them.
We speak and act differently when we can see our own fallibility and I think there is so much power in that self-awareness.
The Bible said it best:
“How can you say to your neighbor ‘look at the splinter in your eye’ when you yourself have a plank in your eye? Shouldn’t you remove the plank from your own eye first?”
The problem always has been us.
So let’s stop trying to smokescreen by highlighting the flaws of others and instead work on addressing our own growth points.