Can Conversation Culture beat Cancel Culture?

And breath out… I’ve been holding mine for four years.

Let’s talk about that inauguration.

All the flags, nice touch.

Fashion. It was like a primary color collection from the House of Pantone. And I loved it. The Winner? Michele. Best Outfit in a Supporting Role.

Gaga. Amazing.

J-Lo. I would not have wanted to go after Gaga. But she busted out some Spanish up there, so props.

And Biden. Good, sure, anything else really. He feels solid. But Kamala is the one I’m excited about.

And Amanda Gorman. Am I the only one who didn’t know that there’s a Youth Poet Laureate? But nice to hear a different generation’s voice on the stage.

Which brings us to the speeches. The what, that was said. Unity. That was the most quoted part of Biden’s speech. About unity being, “…the path forward. Biden continued with, “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.” Couldn’t agree more.

And Biden’s solution? “We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.” Couldn’t agree less.

I don’t think that’s the solution at all. Because that’s all we’ve seen anyone do for the last four years. From Black Lives Matter to the storming of Capitol Hill, Trans visibility to Proud Boys — this is the era of the bearing of souls. If we are more divided than ever, it’s because people are being radically vocal about what they truly think.

So, can America make good on, “America is back,” all the promises that it just made to themselves and rest of the world? And if so, how?

I used to live in South Africa when Mandela had just taken office. By every single measure imaginable, the change from an Apartheid to a Black led government after the decades of atrocities should have been a bloodbath.

But that’s not what happened. Instead Bishop Desmond Tutu started The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The idea was that anyone could come forward to tell the things that they had done under the Apartheid regime. With complete impunity.

The Commission’s goal was to understand the full extent of the Apartheid system so they could dismantle it. Tutu thought the Commission would run for two years. It ran for ten. And the conclusion? The Apartheid system was so morally corrupt, no one operating in it could be held accountable.

Amazing. The Commission’s ultimate act was to listen, understand, forgive, and move on. Together. That’s how they avoided a civil war.

Most countries run on their own unique system built to benefit a power few. We all know this. I doubt that most governments have the ability, or motivation, to set up something as profound as The Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

But governments come and go. You and me are always here. And so is the system. So once again, the responsibility falls on us. My friend Uli put it brilliantly in a post — we’ve had years of Cancel Culture, what we need now is Conversation Culture.

And the most integral part of a conversation is not speaking. It’s listening.

My grandmother always said that you have two ears and one mouth. And to use them in that ratio. So, I think if America, or indeed all our countries in which find ourselves so divided these days, is going to find any kind of unity it means we have to listen to each other.

To engage with people whose opinions we don’t like, and hear them out. Which means really listening, not just waiting for your turn to speak. Not interrupting them. And having no expectation that you will change their minds or prove them wrong.

It means honoring whatever pain has made them that way. Even if you don’t think it’s justified.

I’ll be honest, I don’t always have that in me. And the idea of hearing out people who find my very existence as a gay man an abomination and a threat to theirs, makes me ill.

But I can’t think of anything else that will work. Cancel Culture didn’t. Conversation Culture might.

Years ago, a staunch Democrat friend called me with a secret. She was dating a Republican. What surprised me even more was that when I met him for dinner, I really liked him. We had more in common than we didn’t. Even shared views on some things. He also had amazing taste in music. That evening started me rethinking the whole way I’d been judging America to that point.

So I take back what I said about Biden being totally wrong on the bearing of souls. It’s half the solution. Because if someone bears their soul, there needs to be someone else there to really, truly hear it.

Author of Berlin Stories Blog / Author of the book “My Gay Divorce”

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