Archive for May, 2021

“Woke” and Context

The “cancel culture” is close to being out of control – or maybe it is already. On the one side, there is an extreme left that sees the current socio-economic structure and culture as fatally flawed and that takes even slight lapses and misunderstandings as intentional slights or attacks, and on the right, a mass of conservatives who insist that everything is just fine the way it is and that, even if it’s not, the extreme leftists are taking things far too far.

What I’ve noticed repeatedly is how often matters are taken out of context. For example, a performing arts instructor who had worked with a student for more than three years, giving that student additional instruction, alerting the student to opportunities and funding, and going the extra mile, wrote the student an email to point out that the student had showed a considerable lack of courtesy and respect in handling a situation, adding a note that such behavior would hurt the student if repeated in professional situations because the performing arts community can be a very small world at times. The student ended up filing a grievance that almost resulted in the instructor being dismissed. The instructor was trying to be helpful, alerting the student to an unprofessional behavior, nothing more, but because of the ultra-sensitivity of the words along the lines of “it’s a small world,” the administration panicked. That situation was far different from the ones where Harvey Weinstein used those words to threaten young actresses not to report his physical assaults.

Instances like those of the instructor are far from rare and are getting more and frequent, and I suspect it’s because the “cancel culture” is far too focused on “forbidden” buzzwords than on evaluating words and phrases in their context, and, from what I’ve observed, often too little attention is paid to actions that indicate that the speaker certainly meant neither offense nor harm.

Likewise, conservatives have little or no understanding of the pain that lies behind the use of various phrases that anger the left, because they don’t or can’t understand the context in which those words and phrases were used, both in the past and at times still in the present.

All too often context is everything, but the shouts are so loud that context is lost.