Is there an upside to “cancel culture?”


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Dear friends,

In the last couple of years, we’ve heard a lot about “cancel culture” – the tendency to shun someone who does not abide by social norms.  Most specifically, we hear it applied to social media influencers and/or celebrities who offend their followers with unacceptable remarks, such as those that embrace racist attitudes.

Before we go on, I want to assert that I believe in forgiveness, and that people can change (through deliberate effort).  As a student of culture, I also believe that each generation sets its own norms for what is expected, proper, and acceptable.  Through my studies, I’ve also learned a lot of fascinating things about American culture.

Before the media explosion of the early 20th century, we were considered a “culture of character” – we cared about a person’s reputation and life choices, and judged accordingly.  A person of good character, the reasoning went, would continue to display those positive qualities in a wide variety of contexts: thus, a man who was a loyal employee and loyal family member would display loyalty in all areas of life.

In the industrial age, this thinking changed somewhat.  This change can be strongly linked to the rise of manufacturing and the role of the “salesman.”  If you’ve ever read about Dale Carnegie, you’ll discover the rules of being a “mightly likeable fellow,” and how developing particular traits is the key to success and happiness.  Smile, shake hands, remember names, have a great personality (a word that hadn’t been used much before).  Personality was the key to win friends and influence people – especially people who didn’t know you long enough, or well enough, to assess your character.

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I took the “Dale Carnegie Course” back in the 90s – a course that was once very popular for “businessmen” to complete in their quest to become “a mighty likeable fellow.”  As I remember, the course was expensive, and the subject matter mostly consisted of cultivating superficial behaviors such as strong eye contact, a firm handshake, and a sincere smile.  The emphasis was not so much on developing long-term relationships as it was about researching other people and memorizing factoids about them, so you could say things like “How is your son Billy?” and impress others with how much you cared.

If the stereotype of the “used car salesman” comes to mind, you wouldn’t be far wrong.  This was the culture of personality.

The culture of personality has endured for a century.  Call it the culture of celebrity if you wish, but the outcome is the same: as a nation, we have come to value flash over substance, a firm handshake over firm convictions, a pretty face over a beautiful heart.  And because those things don’t go very deep to begin with, they’re easy to reject.  These “relationships” are easy to walk away from, because we aren’t that emotionally invested.


How does all this relate to “cancel culture?”  Well, I like to think that perhaps we are returning to a cultural norm where character is more important than surface presentation, where we refuse to listen to someone who, through their words and behaviors, has shown that their heart and mind are not in the right place.  If you’re doubtful about this shift, consider: more and more lately, we’ve heard people say things like “I like his music, but I’m not sure I can enjoy it anymore, knowing his attitudes about women,” or, “I like her books, but I’m not sure I can be a fan anymore, knowing her attitudes about queer people.”

We live in community with others.  These rejections – “shunnings,” if you will – might have no effect.  Or, ideally, they’ll have the effect of making the “shunned” think a little more deeply.  If your community rejects you for engaging in a particular behavior, perhaps it’s worth a moment of reflection.  For the mature thinker, such moments can lead to change.

Self-reflection is uncomfortable, and some people seem incapable of taking a hard look inside (many of them are in positions of leadership).  If there is an upside to cancel culture, it may be a nudge toward a new culture of character.  We might begin by reflecting on important “influencers” of the past who weren’t necessarily beautiful, privileged, or givers of firm handshakes, but who drew from an inner well of goodness in their dealings with others.

I encourage all of us to continue pondering the importance of character in the attachments we form to others.





Reading roundup June 2020 – book reviews!


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Dear friends,

Yesterday, a Facebook meme and a childhood memory converged for me.

When I was a little girl, I won a prize in Sunday School.  It was a little book, a retelling of the “parable of the talents” for children.  This is the first Bible story I can remember having a big impact on my life (and it still does).

If you’re unfamiliar with this story (or have forgotten), it goes something like this:  A wealthy master was about to go on a journey, so he called his three servants to him for instructions.  To the first servant, he gave five “talents,” and told him to be a good steward of what he was given.  To the second servant, he gave two “talents,” and told him to be a good steward of what he was given.  The third servant received one “talent,” and the same message.

When the master returned, he asked each servant to come and account for how they had used their “talents.”  Look at the picture on the book cover to imagine the scene: The first and second servants had multiplied their “talents,” and the master was pleased.  But the third servant had hidden his “talent” because he was afraid.  He had nothing to show for himself, and was banished.

The Parable of the Talents - Arch Books (ebook Edition)

I’ve been thinking of this story in the wake of our current social unrest, as I hear people saying “I want to help, but I don’t know what to do.”  Some are unsure whether they should go to a march, or give money, or talk to others about racial issues.  Others just feel stymied, as the problem seems too big to solve.

Then I saw this on Facebook:

Image may contain: text that says 'some are posting on social media some are are protesting in the streets some are donating silently some are educating themselves some are having tough conversations with friends & family a revolution has many lanes be kind to yourself and to others who are traveling the same direction just keep your foot on the gas'

… and I was reminded that we can each make a difference with the talents we have.

I’ve been sewing face masks for the local hospital.  On the hospital’s Facebook page, an individual posted something along the lines of “Hospitals need ventilators, and more staff, and medicines, not home-sewn masks.”  I replied, “It’s what I can do.”

I can sew.  That’s the “talent” I can contribute to the COVID crisis.  I teach about communication across cultural difference.  That’s the “talent” I can contribute to the social crisis.  I can do other things too, but these are specific talents that I can use to try to make the world better right now.

Do what you can, with what you have, as you join the throng of travelers on this journey.  Everyone is needed.



There is no balance in “work/life balance”


Every time the topic of “work/life balance” comes up, I cringe a little.  Here’s why:

First, I think the phrase encourages a weird kind of binary thinking about our daily way of being.  There’s work, and there’s everything else, which falls into the category of “life.”  Somehow, we are supposed to “balance” these two areas of existence.  But that doesn’t work for me, because there are seasons where work demands more of my energy, and seasons when I have to devote more attention to the other stuff.

unbalanced scales - Corporate Eye

Secondly, the phrase has potential to be sexist, to tyrannize women more than men.  Think of the times you’ve heard the phrase, and most likely it’s been in a gendered context.  The idea of “work/life balance” often walks in lockstep with “having it all” – that a person (usually female) should be able to maintain a home, nurture a relationship, raise amazing children, advance on the job … and do each of these things at tip-top, 100% levels.  And look beautiful while doing it.

We can't fix the pay gap without addressing the culture that ...

Here’s a new way of thinking:

What if it’s all just “life?”  What if the “balance” isn’t binary, but a three-legged stool of mind, body, and spirit?  What if we acknowledge that we can’t do everything, and the most noble use of our time is to choose those things that are most important to us, whatever others might think?  What if we give our best in each area of our lives, and realize that on any given day, our best might not be 100%, and that’s ok – what might happen then?

I don’t claim to have the answer, but I’m no longer interested in “having it all.”

50 Ideas to Celebrate 50 Years of Earth Day | Notes from Lisa

Once upon a time, I thought the world had a handle on top that only I could turn.  Then a funny thing happened: I became ill.  I was hospitalized for five weeks.  In the middle of a semester, my classes were suddenly being taught by somebody else, I missed every meeting, attended no conferences, wrote no articles.

And the world went on without me, while I turned 100% of my attention to getting well.  It was a season in my life, a chapter, but the lessons have continued for years.  I had gotten into this mess in the first place by neglecting my health at the expense of work, and my body demanded its due.  It’s time, it said, that you pay attention to me, and I’m going to stop functioning properly just so you get the message.

In other words, my three-legged stool had become wobbly, and it collapsed beneath me.

Marketing is a Three-Legged Stool - MarketVolt - Email Marketing ...

These days, I’m being intentional about feeding my mind, body, and spirit every day.  Some of this feeding takes place through my job, some through physical care, some through tending my environment, and some through nurturing relationships.  The combination of activities will constantly shift and change, but it adds up to a whole life.

A life that’s composed of a lot more than just what’s left over after my workday is done.




COVID chronicles: A strange Easter, your “watch,” and being locked in – really


Hi friends!

It’s been an odd Easter day for many of us.  If you’re used to a big meal with family, or going to church, you probably missed those events today.  I attended “virtual church” this morning (which is nice, but not the same), and made myself waffles for my solo brunch.  But these lonely times are also times for reflection.

Pin on Preschool - Spring

Scripture tells us that at the moment Jesus gave up his spirit, the temple veil was torn open.  What does this mean?  Up until that point, the ordinary person could not enter the “holy of holies” area, only the priests could.  The common man had to seek absolution from the priests.  When the veil was torn open, the barrier between us and God was torn open.  Jesus taught his disciples to pray to “our Father” – i.e., the father of us all.  We are siblings.  We are challenged to treat one another as such.

Where is God in the pandemic?  Where he’s always been – in the hearts and hands of his people.  Look and you’ll find him.

People in positions of power – presidents, governors, mayors, hospital administrators … nobody asked for this, but it’s happening now.  It’s happening in their time of leadership.  So it goes for every human.  We don’t always get to choose what happens to us, only how we react to it.  May all of us react in ways that lift one another up.

House Arrest & Home Confinement as Jail Alternatives in California

I live in an apartment, and I got a call the other day from the office, saying that someone in my building has COVID.  Suddenly this pandemic isn’t so abstract.  We’ve been told that an exterminating company will spray everything down with disinfectant, but in the meantime, we should stay inside for at least a few days.  I’m going to have to go out mid-week to refill a prescription, but I will “suit up” accordingly and not touch anything.

While we are afraid for ourselves, we mustn’t forget to pray and feel empathy for those who are going through this.  My neighbor (whichever one it is, of course they wouldn’t tell me) is undoubtedly sick and frightened, and doesn’t deserve this disease (nor does anyone).  Let’s not allow our fear to make us cruel.

Wishing you all a blessed Easter.  Take some time today to reflect – on the empty tomb, on the resolution of uncertainty, and on the fact that the risen Lord first appeared to women.



COVID chronicles: Auto adventures, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and sewing for days


Hi friends!

Sorry for the radio silence the past few days.  I’ve been busy!

Got my car back yesterday – finally.  You may recall that I hit a deer on March 1st, which buckled my hood and bashed in the front end of the car.  It’s been in the body shop all this time, and I was driving a loaner.  Tuesday morning I got a call saying it was ready, so I went to the body shop, dropped off the loaner, signed a bunch of papers, and drove off the lot with my car.  Whew, right?

Nope.  Nothing is ever that easy.

Easy scholarships that are no-brainers | Unigo

I got halfway home, and the whole dashboard lit up with every possible warning.  A message was flashing, “Go to dealership immediately” and luckily, it was just down the road from where I was at the time.  I’m still under warranty, so I got to drive in on the “VIP side” of the garage.  I explained my problem, and it turned out to be just a system reset issue.  Nothing was wrong, except the car’s computer needed to be rebooted.

However, they couldn’t do it right away.  So they put me in a loaner.  Sigh.  Got it back yesterday, though, and it’s like brand new, inside and out, so I think (fingers and toes crossed) that this particular adventure is finally over.

Full-Length Andrew Lloyd Webber Musicals Head to YouTube | Playbill

As a gesture of kindness to the human community during this pandemic, Andrew Lloyd Webber will be putting his musicals online so we can all enjoy a reprieve from worry.  Starts today, with “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”  Each musical will be available for 48 hours starting on each Friday at 7 p.m. British Time, which is 2 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time.  So, if you are interested, be sure to tune in during a 48 hour window after the start time.  Search for the Youtube channel called “The Shows Must Go On.”

I’m still sewing masks for the local hospital, and I’ve got a bit of a cottage industry going here.  Fabric all over the place.  I haven’t sewed in years, so this is different for me, but it’s for a good cause.

Please observe all the “rules” during this time, and keep yourself well.  The world needs you.




COVID chronicles: The need to know, and the need to do something


Dear friends,

Hello!  How are you holding up?

I’m curious to know your level of news consumption during this pandemic.  Are you a person who has the news on all day?  (That’s me).  Do you check once a day?  Or are you trying to tune it out as much as possible?

Woman Watching Some Terrible News on TV While Sitting on Couch at ...

I’ve always been driven to face the worst.  I figure if I do, then I can start absorbing the blow, and I can’t be blindsided by outcomes. (I don’t do very well with reading mysteries … I get partway through, and then I just have to flip to the back to find out “who done it!”)

I suppose, deep down, it’s a control issue.

I’ve been sewing masks for the local hospital, and again, I think it’s a control thing, a way of feeling like I have some agency over what’s happening.  Keeping busy helps me avoid crossing the line into helplessness and despair.

Could there be a bright side to all of this?

Golden Nature - Flowers & Nature Background Wallpapers on Desktop ...

I believe so.  We have all been asked to put our lives on pause, and this gives us time to reflect on what’s most important to us, and to appreciate all that we have.  I realize how much I value my ordinary life, teaching my classes, interacting with my students.  I miss my church community.  I miss feeling carefree enough to run to the store without worry.

I hope we can all find something constructive to do during this difficult time – start a journal, learn to bake, deep clean the house (that’s on my list too).  We’re allowed to be frightened, too, to cry and to worry – but let’s do our best to keep ourselves and each other from crossing the line into a state of despair.

Storms always pass, and you will find the strength you need.



COVID chronicles: How are ya?


Hello lovely friends,

In our Interpersonal Communication course, we talk about secondary meanings of certain words and phrases – such as the question, “How are you?”  In our culture, it’s a throwaway line, a form of saying hello.  When we say it, we are not inquiring after the other person’s physical, mental, or spiritual health.  We just say “How are ya, how’s it going?” and walk on by without even getting an answer.

Images of Two People Saying Hi -

The past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed something interesting happening.

People are checking in on each other (mostly by mediated means).  We’re asking “How are you?” and we mean it.  We want to know.  Are you feeling well?  How is your family?  Is there anything you need?

In the discipline of Communication, we emphasize the interdependence of people, the ways in which we live in community with others.  If anything good comes out of this time, it will be a reminder to us all that yes, we are our brothers’ keepers.  We succeed and fail together.  We must look after “the least of these.”

I miss you, my friends.