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Life as a Performance Art

Mother may not have orig-inated the concept of Cancel Culture half a century ago, but when the occasion called for it she was aces. She did it quietly and judiciously.
One time John Birch Socie-ty representative turned up at our door, demanding (not asking) she sign a petition to get chlorine out of our drink-ing water because it was a communist plot, and to expel all “commies, lefties, pink-os, lavenders and fellow travelers” from the school board and city.
Mother refused, and repre-sentative got vocal about it. Mother had to sign or she would never speak to her again. “Promise?” Mother asked.
The woman tried a differ-ent approach. If Mother didn’t sign the petition, she would make it her personal mission to tell others in the neighborhood what a horri-ble, unpatriotic, terrible mother and woman she was. She would make sure her friends dropped her and she was a social outcast. No parent would allow their child to play with us, and we would be excommunicated from the church.
Mother dared her to try it.
That seemed to anger the woman all the more, and she told Mother what she thought of her. Mother smiled sweetly and said, “I don’t care what you think of me. I never think of you” and with that she slammed the door shut.
Moments later Mother spotted my sister and me hiding around the corner and told us “Don’t you dare say a word of this to your father! She had the tone of voice that let us know she meant business. There would be no chocolate cookies for all of eternity, and we would be grounded for the rest of our lives if we violated that in-struction.
A few minutes later we heard the bathroom faucet running and knew that she was crying. Mothers of her era taught their daughters to do that: turn on the water to muffle the sound of crying.
Half an hour later, with her makeup back on and hair in place, she returned and sug-gested we make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I don’t know if there was any more to this story, but I do know Mother outlived the reign of terror created by the John Birch Society.
We can obsess about what other people think about us. It goes well beyond being “nice” or trying to be a good person. Sometimes we stay quiet or go along with the crowd rather than endure their disappointment, anger or being cancelled ourselves.
A good example of that is what has happened with Harry Potter books author J.K. Rowling when she did not use the correct words and phrases demanded by the more-militant transgender crowd. They began cancel-ling her, then anyone who stood up for her.
The other day a speaker in England was nearly can-celled because she had a day job working for Boeing. The objection was she worked for a company that made mili-tary planes, overlooking that Boeing also makes passenger and private planes. Those who wanted to cancel her focused on one segment of the corporation’s product line, thus the speaker was guilty by association.
If we maintain this cancel culture we’ll promote our-selves straight back to the Middle Ages, maybe even Dark ones when superstition reigned supreme. You know, fun ones like bathing is dan-gerous so people bathed only once a year. Or doctors re-turn to leaches and blood-letting to treat illness. Care to go back to obsessing about witches, hideous beasts in the forests, poltergeists or, worse yet, tomatoes are deadly poison?
Not that many years ago high schools, colleges and universities welcomed open debate on almost any sub-ject. When possible, they would bring in a controver-sial speaker to talk about a challenging issue of the day. They encouraged late night bull sessions where the debates continued.
The culture then was “I may not agree with that per-son but want to hear what they have to say.” Then it became “I disagree with that person’s beliefs so I won’t listen to anything they say.”
It went further at the Uni-versity of Michigan’s tradi-tional White Coat Day, when first-year medical students put on their first white lab coats signifying they have reached a milestone in their careers. Oh, they still have several years of medical school, work as an intern for more years and perhaps post graduate studies to complete, but on that day the school said “We believe you can do this.”
Because the main speaker believed in the Right to Life movement, even though she never said one word about the subject, several dozen students pointedly got up and walked out. That was just plain rude … and spooky. Men and women of science and medicine public-ly refusing to listen to any idea contrary to theirs. That is frightening.
We are dividing ourselves up into ever-smaller groups, sometimes expelling mem-bers because they aren’t quite good enough to re-main. If we aren’t careful, this election year may be even more brutal than the past.
We should be better than that and know it. A mature person will hear the ideas of another, thank them and quietly repeat Voltaire’s words, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

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