The High Holy Days have arrived and once again it’s time to reflect upon the good and bad that has characterized our lives this year. The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur known as the Days of Awe is for introspection, and it is important that we take heed.
It’s a critical time for us to reflect upon our missteps and ask for forgiveness in exchange for redemption. Forgiveness and compassion allow us to keep moving forward because people always make mistakes. In the 18th century, Alexander Pope coined the phrase “To err is human; to forgive, divine” and it is a message we cannot ignore as a disastrous phenomenon mercilessly eats away at the fabric of today’s society: cancel culture.
The dangers of this punishing practice are something the Jewish community should seriously contemplate as we enter this holy season. Forgiveness is a concept that is foreign to those who embrace the cancel culture curse, but forgiveness is a tenet of Judaism.
Why cancel culture flies in the face of Judaism
Yom Kippur, known as the Day of Atonement, is predicated upon the idea that we can be forgiven, atone for our sins, and ultimately be redeemed. But in a cancel culture world, the opposite is true. The inverse happens if you admit that you’ve done something wrong, whether intentional or inadvertent, and punishment is a never-ending story.
In a world fueled by this cruel phenomenon, you never receive forgiveness. Your admission of guilt instead becomes confirmation that you are a flawed person who deserves to be permanently punished. This flies in the face of Jewish tradition.
Even the greatest patriarchs of the Jewish faith were also pitiful sinners. Jacob, for example, tricked his brother Esau out of a birthright, and King David sent Bathsheba’s husband to his death so he could marry her. And then there’s Moses, the greatest Jewish prophet of all, who smashed the Torah upon his descent from holy Mount Sinai, destroying the stone tablets that had been engraved by God. Moses also killed an Egyptian and buried his body in the sand.
Yet all were forgiven by God.
Moses is considered the savior of the Israelites. But the parameters set by cancel culture would have us deciding his memory is a disservice to our people. Cancel culture would require us to erase all mention of the man who led the slaves out of Egypt and parted the Red Sea with his staff so they could cross. Cancel culture would wipe his footprint from the annals of history and have us looking elsewhere for redemption. All because he also made mistakes.
Cancel culture ignores the good and forever dwells on the bad.
Proponents of cancel culture like to say that the practice has value because it’s a way to hold people accountable. But we’ve always had lots of ways to hold people accountable. For every misdeed, there’s a punishment that can be implemented, whether it’s privately providing feedback, publicly reporting them, suing them, arresting them, or prosecuting them.
Most importantly, it’s not just the rich, famous, and powerful who are targeted by cancel culture. Average citizens have the most to lose. Regular people who are pilloried in the public eye have a much harder time taking back their lives and establishing normalcy after they become the target of mob vengeance.
Just as we hope that God will forgive us and grant us atonement during the High Holy Days, we must personally reject the unforgiving insidious practice of cancel culture. We are called to extend love and compassion to our fellow men and women, instead of shaming them publicly and trying to silence them forever. Cancel culture must be canceled.
The writer is the founder and CEO of the crisis communications firm Red Banyan and the author of Amazon bestsellers Crisis Averted and The Cancel Culture Curse: From Rage to Redemption in a World Gone Mad.