When I wrote about how it’s sometimes hard to be undecided or hold a complex view on the internet, I also noted:

Shame is a powerful social and cultural tool to shape behavior. Norms are powerful. I think it’s great that most people can’t and won’t talk about members of the LGBTQ community the way we used to because you’ll be immediately shamed and dragged. I am perfectly happy at times to directly confront someone and ask if they’ve really thought about the consequences of what they’re saying or expressing.

I felt like I had to say that for two reasons.

  1. Many bad actors who complain about “cancel culture” are actually just trying to avoid accountability for their own actions.
  2. I thought it was important to note that there are times when I draw the line for myself on accountability.
  3. I think one of the most challenging parts of being confronted with people outside of your community is that communities define where those lines are. Online, we’re all largely shoved into each other’s communities. Our bubbles are constantly overlapping and bouncing into each other.

The last time I confronted someone in this way on the internet was about LGBTQ issues, so it was easy to pull out that example. I directly told someone:

I have to tell you, this level of dedication to this view point presents a lack of compassion and empathy that is almost breathtaking.

When they didn’t respond well, I wrote a bit more. But the part I wanted to focus on was the last sentence in that ultimate reply:

I hope you consider this with fresh eyes and a more open heart in the future.

I do feel that way. I think part of why the idea of “cancellation” has become so popular is we have a standard operating procedure for excluding someone. Heck, in this case, I’m actually transitioning a service related to this conversation.

But, it’s a lot harder to know what forgiveness looks like. What does acceptance later look like? I don’t really know. Most of the people who complain about getting cancelled actually face no consequences, so this is a moot point. The worst that happens is a very small, specific set of people never forget, and don’t ever really forgive. There’s an entire category of meme post which is the bad apology (always an Apple Notes screenshot), followed by the outrage at that apology, and typically followed by at least one or two more rounds of bad apologies trying to correct. If we knew how to do this, it wouldn’t be so awkward.

I have done things or said things that have probably irreparably damaged by my reptutation and relationship with those that were around for it. My life has moved on, there are many people who have met a better person than I was because I felt that shame, embraced it, and learned from it. I think in a lot of those cases, if I ran into those folks today, I’d like to believe I would not fall into past patterns. I’d like to believe I’d show myself for who I am today, and that this person is better than I was then. And I hope I’d be, if not forgiven, then offered a little more acceptance.

To even have a shot at all this, it’s important to acknowledge, stop, listen, learn, grow, and often, make amends.

I think that works “in real life”, but I’m not sure it works nearly as well online. And that’s tough.