Can Compassionate Accountability® Heal Cancel Culture?
In this guest post from the National Coach Academy, Kristie Santana argues that Compassionate Accountability® can be an antidote to cancel culture.
Cancel culture, commonly known as ‘accountability culture’ is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s one of the most toxic movements to hit the modern workplace. The idea has been sold as a means to ending bad behavior, to calling out perpetrators, and most importantly, it’s been touted as a way to bring down evil establishments. Sounds all rather noble, doesn’t it? I mean, aren’t we all trying to do better, be better? But therein lies the fallacy. Cancel culture, for the most part, doesn’t accomplish any of that.
What cancel culture does accomplish is disproportionate punishment for those who have little power. You’ve probably heard of JK Rowling being cancelled for her controversial comments about womanhood. Twitterati had a field day annihilating her reputation, let’s not forget that Ms. Rowling is a billionaire. This prizefighter may be damaged from taking a few hits, but we can’t pretend that the Harry Potter franchise is going to die out tomorrow, never to be heard from again. However, when a high school security guard in Madison, Wisconsin, was overheard echoing a racial slur used by a student in an effort to educate them about why they shouldn’t use it, he was fired from his job a week later. The consequences of this man losing his position, being canceled, are demonstrative of a fragile call-out culture with dangerous motives.
Calling out, canceling out, accountability culture, while the intentions are inherently good, doesn’t necessarily change the way someone behaves. While it’s an ideology that seeks to interrupt institutional norms and uphold privilege, it also lacks two of the most important components required to create lasting change; an environment where individuals are heard and space where compassion is practiced.
The most effective way to institute change in the workplace is not to humiliate, shame, or erase someone’s career, identity, or self-worth, but rather, to call them in. And this is why compassionate accountability can be restorative. Positive change, especially in the workplace, is accomplished by discouraging a mob mentality, disallowing environments of condemnation, and holding space for those who do make mistakes to be treated with dignity and be invited to be part of the solution. Hearing intentions, checking assumptions, and sharing in the solution are all aspects of Compassionate Accountability.
As a counter to cancel culture, compassionate accountability isn’t practiced in the workplace from the perspective of some moral high ground that’s impossible to obtain. Being compassionate means you accept that humanity is imperfect. It means we are able to walk into our place of work knowing we are all valuable, capable, and responsible. Additionally, compassionate accountability is not stratified and doesn’t necessarily have more dire consequences for those with less power or agency. Compassionate accountability is a process of struggling with others, not an adversarial process that creates winners and losers.
The language around cancel culture is often hyperbolic, exclusionary, and violent; indicative of the Persecutor role on the Drama Triangle. For a term that only made its debut in English colloquialism four or five years ago, the momentum it has gained is startling. When you look at the language used in compassionate accountability, you will immediately notice a stark contrast. If a leader who practices compassionate accountability calls a team member into their office to address a conflict, the process is quite different. For example,
John, I’m angry about something and want to feel confident that we are on the same page. It has been brought to me that you’ve shared some viewpoints around the office that some individuals found offensive. I can share specifics and I want to hear your perspective. It’s important to me that we uphold a respectful and inclusive work atmosphere. Where are you at on this?
Although this is just the beginning of the conversation, the stage has been set. John’s boss has created a safe, curious, and accountable space for the conflict to occur. John’s voice isn’t drowned out by an angry mob or wall of superior morality. He’s given the opportunity to share his perspective. There’s clarity about what’s most important, and there’s an invitation to join in finding a better solution. Being given the space and grace to examine behavior is not only a form of compassion, but the true meaning of inclusivity.
Now, it doesn’t mean John was in the right or that his behavior wasn’t offensive. And we all know of high-profile cases where the behavior must be stopped, regardless of the offender’s perspective. But in an era where cancel culture is pervasive, an organization’s best defense to this phenomena is to create core practices that leave no room for it and to foster a counter-culture of sorts, where employees are not without accountability but exist in an environment where all perspectives are heard, worked through, and treated with compassion.
Kristie Santana is a life coach with 15 years of client experience. She is the founder of the National Coach Academy, and more recently, the co-founder of Life Coach Path, an educational resource for students looking to enter the coaching field and start thriving coaching practices of their own.