What Cancel Culture Teaches Kids About Conflict Resolution

Dr. Pamela Rutledge
5 min readMar 5, 2021
Illustration: Visual Generation/Shutterstock

Don’t agree with them? Find them offensive? Don’t like them? Cancel them!

Cancel culture — publicly ‘canceling’ or calling out someone for words or actions that you find offensive, disagree with, or just plain don’t like — is everywhere. It can be simple finger-pointing or a coordinated demand for retribution for alleged transgressions, urging the audience to join in and add their voice to hasten the severe penalties of social ostracization. It started as a means of social change, a way of speaking individual truths to positions of power. But where it was once focused on authority figures, public humiliation and shaming have become the ‘go-to’ means of voicing disapproval, real or imaginary, against anyone. It’s gone from social issues to personal ones, from celebrities to classmates. We have a big problem if this is how we’re teaching our kids to deal with problems and each other. Cancel culture has turned into bullying with a cooler name. It promotes ostracization over education, condemnation over compassion, and is deaf to redemption and change.

Public Shaming and Social Exclusion are Not New

Public shaming and social exclusion have long been a means of controlling people and social behavior. They inflict significant psychological pain. One of the most effective means of getting people to follow the party line is denying their existence. Think ex-communication. Kicking people out is also an effective way to draw the boundary lines between groups–they are bad or wrong, therefore they are “out” or in the psychological literature, the “other.” Our group is right and good. We are “in.”

When used responsibly, public exposure of sins can be an effective means of raising awareness and achieving social change. Boycotting has a long history in social resistance efforts and civil rights movements. ‘Outing’ transgressions can increase awareness and stimulate change, such as in #MeToo. Social media can give voice to the underrepresented, unknown, and abused.

However, the same tactics are agnostic and can equally be used to scare people into submission, such as the McCarthy-era Red Scare. When canceling is used irresponsibly — or worse, with the intent of…

Dr. Pamela Rutledge

Using psychology to empower positive media relationships and create content with impact and purpose. www.pamelarutledge.com