Civility and the Cancel Culture
Wikipedia defines Cancel Culture as “a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to be “cancelled”. Merriam-Webster notes that to “cancel”, as used in this context, means “to stop giving support to that person” while Dictionary.com, in its pop-culture dictionary, defines cancel culture as “withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” The expression “cancel culture” has mostly negative connotations and is commonly used in debates on free speech and censorship.”
First, let’s get back to some basics – the Three Poisons of Ignorance, Attachment, and Aggression, in which I have said that we can translate them as… We don’t understand things completely. We get attached to our version of things. And, we get defensive, maybe even aggressive when people don’t agree with us. This is the habitual Samsaric mind, which we each possess and exist within cultures where reified ideas pro and con regarding virtually every human transaction create individual and group preferences and dislikes, friends, enemies, in-crowds, heretics, and maligned.
I spoke in my last podcast about undigested thoughts in the virtual world. The speed of virtual communications and the way in which we revere our thoughts and feel entitled to express them in speech and writing is less an expression in our culture of having freedom of speech and more an expression of the loss critical thinking, listening, and the civility to communicate in an on-the-level altruistic intent and create as little harm as possible and benefit all.
In one of my Facebook posts on Cancel Culture I wrote… “you may think you have the right to say what you want and – within 1st Amendment protection – where you want, I have the right to be selective in what I want to hear or read, i.e. listener and reader rights. Example: I do not own Facebook, but I “rent” a space on that platform I call mine. If you come into my space to berate or belittle me or others, spread falsities and absurd unfounded conspiracies, I reserve the right to say to you for myself and those who would normally read my page, go away. I shall take down said offensive material and, if necessary, unfriend you. I am not infringing on your right to say or write what you want. But, not here. This is not about echo chambers. Based on my values, I hold that demonstrating civility is the best approach in resolving what even appears to be irreconcilable. You have the right to roam the rest of the virtual universe to plant your seeds in some other garden.” With respect to the notions of shaming and ostracism that is utilized, in the positive sense, I can see these within the context of what I would call civility rooted in wrathful compassion. See The Path of Civility…, page 28.
But, let’s open the lens on this concept of cancel culture, for although you may not like a newspaper or radio or TV station because they do not express your views, there are now media outlets for every persuasion. These indeed create echo chambers from which we need to emerge to make substantive change, but we also need to be fearless in confronting cancel culture systems like 1. Gerrymandering 2. Red lining 3. Culling voter lists 4. Providing fewer or inadequate polling places in elections 5. Making election days national holidays or times that don’t disadvantage those who fear taking off or may get hours docked to go and vote. In this regards, our last election was the fairest. 6. Practices in business, industry, and government which advantage some over others
These are the CANCEL issues we need to address to create the representative democracy we profess to have or aspire to achieve.
Towards these ends and in the best sense, we can see the notion of cancel culture within the context of discernment and being able to rally together with people of like mind without being overly distracted by those whose views only take on more real estate in our heads than is of value. Masons speak of circumscribing desires, where we learn to rein ourselves. In a laissez fare world, discipline is considered repressive. But the Tibetan word for discipline, Tsultrim, is also translated as joy. It is important to remember in this context the
Civility does not arise on its own. It takes discipline. And from this, greater joy and ease follow.
Civility and Time
Time for Civility
Think about your communication, your personal and business transactions in the Digital Age.
How conditioned have we become to instant gratification, immediate responses, and that nerve-racking wait as the three dots repeat and repeat until the answer comes. And, what if the dots stop and there is no response? What does it mean? Is the question or comment not worthy of response? Are we not worthy of response? If the answers to these questions is “yes” then certainly the response should be immediate – certainly not tomorrow.
Obviously, timely replies for those circumstances that need timely replies, deserve timely replies. But short of these usually rare or special circumstances, how many of our communication really warrant instant replies? And how is our communication and our skills in communicating effected, even truncated by time pressure?
In this context, civility is a casualty when time as a factor in healthy, open communication is not considered.
In fact, reflection and consideration of what someone is saying or writing are skills of what is called deep listening. These 2 skills are best served by the inner cultivation of what are called in the Buddha’s Dharma, the Six Perfections.
Generous spirit – one that exhibits openness and a willingness to share freely. This does not mean that one disregards history or goes into a situation with rose-colored glasses. Rather, one enters into an interaction with a sense of – what Freemasons would call, “being on the level.”
Kindness – you act without guile or a twist to make things go to your advantage to the disadvantage of the other simply because you want to win or be on top. You are straightforward in a way that allows for a transaction to feel two-way or serve the greatness number in the most beneficial way possible.
Patience – an understanding of the time it takes for our mind and habits to transform. How often do we see our own history repeating itself, where what we thought were habits or actions we had changed, once again emerge in a new or different circumstance? In patiently tending to our own awakening, we demonstrate a mercy towards ourselves, which will well serve us when we are trying to encourage a change of mind or action in others.
Discipline – when we know what to do and how to do it well in any given circumstance, there is less stress and more ease in what happens. Thus discipline in speech, knowing what to say, how to deliver it so that your message comes across most effectively, is a skill worth cultivating.
Stillness or Meditative Awareness invites an open and clear mind. To not have your internal dialogue chatting away while you are trying to pay attention and listen reduces the likelihood of you interrupting or adding commentary that is more about you than about the transaction you are trying to be engaged in. This requires training.
Wisdom – all the qualities mention above, practiced well over time, will yield this perfection. Such wisdom commands respect implicitly and almost naturally.
When all of these perfections are worked upon, civility becomes natural and implicit. And, to work upon these to perfect your being takes TIME.
In which case, show yourself some mercy. Be still and kind and patient with yourself. For, the most important civil dialogue you need to master is the one within your own mind.
An excerpt from my book, which I cannot stress enough, makes a profound difference in de-escalating discord and conflict…
The Five Steps to Wise Action
How do we learn to act with skill, with compassion to accomplish what we aspire for ourselves and in this world in the most civil way?
Although Wisdom is one of the Perfections mentioned earlier, it in itself can be subdivided into mental processes we need to go through in order to go from wise perception to wise action. These processes are all classified as wisdoms, which, when seen collectively, create sensible and progressive action steps to know how to employ or what level of compassion to use. Note that the discussion of the Five Wisdoms in Buddhism usually includes more theoretical and theological discussion. I shall avoid these and focus on the actionable aspects of each, which can be applied in both sacred and mundane situations.
All Pervasive Wisdom – This first wisdom action step may be the hardest as it asks us to step back from the immediacy of the situation or at least be able to keep our passions from leading us to a rush to judgment. If we are able to step back, to see a bigger picture and place the situation into a larger perspective, we then create more of an opportunity to think out of or beyond the box we may otherwise be mentally and emotionally trapped in. Succinctly, the action step is: Step back.
Discriminating Wisdom – By stepping back and getting a clearer picture, we encourage our ability to judge impartially, but with discernment Based on a wider perspective, we are not looking at “the truth,” per se. Relative reality and truth are at best, very slippery bedfellows. There are always so many sides and interpretations to any situation. And so, we discern as best we can and give an “honest” assessment . Honesty means we are coming from a place of integrity within ourselves. Honesty allows us to change our minds if more information comes to light. We may not always know “the truth,” but we can always be honest. Thus, the action step here is: Assess.
Mirror-like Wisdom – This wisdom is reminiscent of our modern psychological understanding of projection, that what we see in the world is a mirror reflection of our state of mind. (What is fascinating is that modern neuroscience has identified Mirror Neurons, which are said to reside behind our hearts and that the information from these neurons goes up to our brain. Furthermore, there are more signals going from the heart to the brain than visa versa. And so, Japanese Buddhism speaks of the “heart-mind.” It is also fascinating to reflect that this wisdom known as “mirror-like” pre-dates our current knowledge of mirror neurons by centuries.) What is called on here is for us to understand the direct impact on us personally of what we have honestly assessed. If we start there, we stand a better chance of knowing how our words or actions that follow will affect others. The action step is: Reflect.
Wisdom of Equanimity – This wisdom demands that we confront within ourselves any bigotry that sees any person or being to be ultimately superior or inferior to ourselves. Freemasonry, as a tradition of philanthropy and secular enlightenment, speaks of “being on the level.” Without understanding that we are all “equal in the eyes of God,” true, heartfelt empathic communication and civility–based action is not possible. The Yiddish word here is to be a “mensch.” Not seeing or acting as being higher or lower than those whom we engage, we overcome prejudice and invite a reciprocal response. Whether the response we get is indeed reciprocal is another matter. But, the point in demonstrating civility here is that we engage in such a spirit. Engaging another “on the level,” another important dimension of this wisdom is that we do not engage in character assassination. What we should be addressing are issues and actions. Thus, the action step here is: Engage.
All Accomplishing Wisdom – Being able to step back, assess, reflect, and properly engage, we now have the sufficient knowledge that we need to Learning summon and martial our energy wisely and apply it where, when, and how it is most effective. We step into action forthrightly. The action step here is: Enact.
The first three of these wisdoms, all-pervasive, discriminating, and mirror-like are more internal or mental. The last two, the wisdom of equanimity and all-accomplishing wisdom are the connection we make with others and our action or words in the manifest world. The bridge between the internal and outer or external is at the level of mirror-like wisdom, associated in the East with what is called the heart chakra, the center of the heart-mind. Reflection therefore acts as the gate between our inner machinations of our experience and how we are to prepare ourselves for engagement and action in the world. It is then by the wisdom of equanimity that we make the main step of social engagement. Thus, the wisdom of equanimity is the most social of all the wisdoms.
To summarize and succinctly state, in the Five Steps to Wise Action…we
1. step back – look at the big picture
2. assess – clearly discern what we are looking at
3. reflect on this knowledge, understand our part – making it personal, helping us to develop empathy
4. engage – initiate action based on mutual respect an intention of focusing on the good of all
5. enact – step into action forthrightly
Watch my “Pillow Talk” podcast, which puts this all into action.
Breaking Bread – Building Bonds
Before March of 2020, the rough estimate was thatAmericans ate 6 out of every 10 meals out of our homes. If we did eat at home, we grazed, ate in our own rooms, or maybe in front of a TV. Gone were the days of preparing a meal together, sitting down around a table, saying prayers, engaging in family conversation, etc…
And then came the pandemic. And suddenly, what was lost or considered out of fashion, kitch, or pointless are now emerging as the necessary skills to make interactions such as mealtimes civil, if not celebratory.
There is a whole section of Washington’s “Rules of Civility” devoted to dining. Why? With little artificial lighting, no mass or instant forms of transportation, and the absence of the many dining or entertainment experiences available, mealtime was a central feature in daily living.
Some of what I share here may seem antiquated, But, surprisingly, trying to incorporate many of these rules may just make your holiday meal celebrations that much more special. You may even consider adopting these for your daily gustatory events!
90. “Set at meat, Scratch not, neither Spit, Cough, or blow your Nose, except there’s a Necessity for it.”
Commentary: Common decency when dining with others.
91. “Make no Show of taking great Delight in your Victuals, Feed not with Greediness; cut your Bread with a Knife, lean not on then Table, neither find fault with what you Eat.”
Commentary: In these modern times when many people eat out, snack, or graze more frequently than actually sit down with others to “break bread” in any formal or familial way, the social graces of healthy, respectable, and gracious dining are all but lost. And yet, business luncheons and lunches are not infrequent as apart of commerce, conversing over deals, etc.…Thus the manners and mindfulness of eating bear paying attention to as one more avenue in which one demonstrates a civil approach to an important human function and venue of social discourse.
92. “Take no Salt or cut Bread with your Knife Greasy.”
Commentary: More than likely this Rule has less to do with hygiene than it does about using implements that are definitely yours by their use and applying them to what is commonly shared. It may be considered not unlike an animal “tagging” something for themselves.
93. “Entertaining any one at the Table, it is decent to present them with meat; undertake not to help others undesired by the Master.”
Commentary: In this case the “Master” may be a father or whoever is deemed head of the table. In the perspective of such a hierarchy, Hawkins advises one not to invite someone to the table if you know that he or she are not acceptable to the head of the table. And, if they are, be sure that they are served like anyone and everyone else who is at the table.
94. “If you Soak bread in the Sauce, let it be no more than what you put in your Mouth at a time; and blow not your broth at Table but Stay till (it) Cools of itself.”
Commentary: If you soak more than one mouthful, you will be holding a drippy piece of bread. Regarding hot soup or broths, those of manners learn that if you scoop along the edge where the liquid meets the bowl on the surface, you will find the mouthful cooled down enough.
95. “Put not your meat to your Mouth with your Knife in your hand, neither Spit forth the stones of any fruit Pie upon a Dish, nor Cast anything under the table.”
Commentary: It would be interesting to learn when the idea of cutting one’s meat or other food, putting down the knife, then using the fork to eat the portion began. It is now a more common American cutlery habit compared to the European style where both fork and knife are employed. And, if stones from a pie with stoned fruit cannot be put on a plate and you can’t toss it under the table, is it to be placed in a napkin?
96. “It’s unbecoming to Stoop much to ones Meat. Keep your Fingers clean and when foul wipe them on a Corner of your Table Napkin.”
Commentary: A healthy, upright posture shows breeding, improves digestion, and reduces the likelihood of mess or spills.
97. “Put not another bit into your mouth ‘till the former be swallowed. Let not your morsels be too big for the jowls.”
Commentary: The art of proper chewing, both in size and number of chews per bite, is not only good etiquette, but makes digestive sense from the standpoint of ensuring that food swallowed does not lead to hiccups, unnecessary belching, flatulence and other manifestations of digestive distress.
98. “Drink not nor talk with your mouth full; neither gaze about you while you are drinking.”
Commentary: Presumably, both aspects of this rule are to ensure that you look composed while eating, but also do not inadvertently spray or spill on others
99. “Drink not too leisurely nor yet too hastily. Before and after drinking, wipe your lips; breath not then or ever with too great a noise, for its uncivil.”
Commentary: Composure creates a context in which others are engaged in a state of greater ease and receptivity for civil discourse.
100. “Cleanse not your teeth with the table cloth napkin, fork, or knife; but if others do it, let it be done without a peep to them.”
Commentary: Mind your own manners as such and make no comment to others, lest to make a spectacle of their improprieties, which will cause embarrassment and/or annoyance.
101. “Rinse not your mouth in the presence of others.”
Commentary: Such a behavior is best done in private or in a bathroom.
102. “It is out of use to call upon the company often to eat; nor need you drink to others every time you drink.”
Commentary: Although to do these acts is a custom of courtesy, know your situation, the time, and the timing. To act reflexively or habitually in such matters will usually create awkward moments, which may be perceived as token or insincere.
103. “In the company of your betters, be not longer in eating than they are; lay not your arm but only your hand upon the table.”
Commentary: To linger longer when eating puts you in the situation of setting the timing and pace of the dining situation, which could be considered lazy or disrespectful to those who one should defer to. Also, to place one’s arm on the table may be seen as sign of laziness, a casual attitude, or impropriety.
104. “It belongs to the chiefest in company to unfold his napkin and fall to meat first, but he ought then to begin in time and to dispatch with dexterity that the slowest may have time allowed him.”
Commentary: A sign of a truly quality leader, patron, or “chiefest” person is that they have a natural and/or due consideration for everyone at the table so that no person feels lesser or embarrassed unduly, regardless of their standing.
105. “Be not angry at the table, whatever happens; and if you have reason to be so, show it not; put on a cheerful countenance especially if there be strangers, for good humor makes one dish of meat a feast.”
Commentary: (We’ve talked about this before. But, as a reminder…) Nothing ruins a meal faster than anger and other negative emotions people are feeling and/or displaying while trying to eat. Try to clear the air, let it go. Breathing deeply and calmly, like in meditation. And if you cannot contain yourself, it is better to excuse yourself than to infect the dining experience of others.
106. “Set not yourself at the upper of the table; but if it be your due or that the master of the house will have it so, contend not, least you should trouble the company.”
Commentary: It is not your place to chose the head of the table as yours unless it is so. However, when the master or company offer you that spot, you should accept their generosity. In Buddhist thinking, it is always beneficial to the one offering generosity for one to accept it from them.
107. “If others talk at the table, be attentive but talk not with meat in your mouth.”
Commentary: Do not let your haste to respond make a display of the content of your mouth. By allowing chewing to set the pace, your words will be far better considered, presented, and more than likely received.
Have Yourself a Merry Civil Holiday Season!
In the Christmas Truce of WWI, Allied and German soldiers put down their guns, came out of their respective foxholes and exchanged Christmas greetings, shared photos of their respective families, and played some soccer. And, at the end of the day, they returned to their foxholes to resume the battle.
What was the point?
Despite the arguing about land and resources, rooted in the Three Poisons –
- Ignorance of the fact that there really is enough to go around
- That we are attached to a worldview fearful of scarcity and us not getting our fair share and
- That the only way to get what we want or need is to do battle with those who we think stand in the way
That there was a wish – very common human wish rooted in our Basic Goodness or Loving Nature – to live with civility in harmony
In The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, the Buddhist teacher, Shantideva, explains that ALL of our own worst tendencies – pride, greed, excessive desire, reflexive reaction, avarice, and anger are distortions of our true nature, founded upon our Loving Nature.
But, with a lack of understanding and fixating on what or how a desired outcome will be possible, we become insistent, dogmatic, fanatical, tyrannical. We do harmful things to ourselves and each other.
And we know it. We do know better. Even those who seem smug or defiant in what has caused harm know better.
And our bodies and minds tell us so in
- deranged ideations
- digestive complaints
- heightened irritability
- need for drink or medication
- desire to do even more harm to numb the feelings of guilt and inner conflict – a cause of some the torture we inflict upon others – all rooted in self-loathing
I recently read an article by HH17th Karmapa Thaye Dorje that said that all this is actually good news. WHY? Because our bodies and minds are teaching us that none of what we do against ourselves, our neighbors, who we think are our enemies, or nature is Natural. It is habitual. And habits, even long standing ones can be changed.
Understand that some habits we have are more ingrained than other. Some can change overnight, some over lifetime, perhaps some over several lifetimes, but, they are changeable, whereas our loving nature in a universe of love is unending.
So, here we are for the holidays – where we are with either in person or virtually those with whom we have acted on, learned, or developed habit patterns, some useful, some not.
All wounds are re-opened, patterns you thought you grown beyond are reactivated. And you, the independent, strong minded successful person that you are now just the son, the daughter, the baby sister or brother, – just part of the brood, stirring once again in your familiar brood stew.
Mindfulness and all the wisdom and compassion you can muster is what you need to summon. If there was ever a time that taught you these skills are useful, if not necessary, this is it.
At the same time, many of the Rules of Civility that George Washington lived by may come in handy.
So here are just a few you may want to consider as you sit around the festive table or share the Zoom room.
#13 “Kill no Vermin as fleas, lice, ticks, etc. in the Sight of Others. If you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexterously upon it. If it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own Cloths, return Thanks to him who puts it off.”
Commentary: There are appearances on oneself or companions or in the immediate environment that you are in that can be uplifting or degrading. And thus while it is true that beauty is relative and purity or beauty of thought, speech, and conduct is far more important, to keep beauty in mind in all ways can accentuate their affects. To have it in mind not to offend, to go out of your way to tend to another or to the circumstance so that they do not offend, and if another attends to you similarly – if done in a spirit of cordiality – can be quite sublime.
22. (I have shared this one before, but think of this in the context of loved ones and some of the gossip that often comes up in the holidays…)
“Show not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another, though he were your enemy.”
Commentary: If we truly believe that we are all basically good and that we are all doing the best based on what we know, we must understand that as misguided as we may think others are in what they say and do, they think the same as us. This is the predicament of conditioned existence. And in whatever conflict we face, whether it is a personal conflict or an all-out conflagration consuming continent, to rejoice in the pain and suffering of others shows a shallow understanding of humanity and life in general.
In the tradition of honorable warfare, the Ven. Chogyam Trungpa said that on the battlefield, after striking down a foe, a noble soldier would sit with his defeated adversary and pray with him, as he would drift into death.
Thus civility holds no quarter for those who seek revenge or take pleasure in the demise of others. Such an attitude can only diminish us as individuals and in the end, leave us prey to the same. As the Welsh saying goes, “:If you plan revenge, dig two graves.”