Marina Stephens: Words Matter

Words matter. Definitions matter. I say this to my friends all the time. The reason is simple. We may communicate in many ways but when it comes to the most important, we use words, we define ideas, and we simplify complex concepts by labeling them.

Cancel Culture is a widely and loosely used label nowadays. What does it stand for? A few common definitions may be summarized as follows: it is a popular practice of withdrawing support for someone or something after they have done or said something, or stand for something, considered objectionable or offensive. That does not appear to be all that ominous really. We do not have to support things we do not agree with. We are free people living in a free country.

Then, I looked up the words cancel and culture.

The word cancel is defined as to neutralize or negate the force or effect of something. The word culture is defined as the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.

Very interesting! So, putting these two words together, we understand that a Cancel Culture is a popular practice of neutralizing or negating the force or effect of customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group. Ha… Now, that does not appear quite as benign, would you not agree?

The next two questions that pop into my mind were: who is doing the cancelling and who is being cancelled? Does it really matter, though? 

Human history is replete with ample examples of Cancel Culture. Jews have been subjected to Cancel Culture numerous times, in many countries, across millennia. My Jewish culture was cancelled in the Soviet Union, the country where I grew up. The very reason for our congregation’s existence in the United States is that our ancestors were subjected to Cancel Culture which forced them to come here. We often say that everyone in this country is an immigrant (except for the Native Americans), and that is the truth. We all are, or we came from the people who were, subjected to Cancel Culture at one point or another. Then, in turn, wittingly or unwittingly, we participated in Cancel Cultur’ing someone else. It appears to be a vicious cycle of mutually assured destruction. So, does it really matter who is doing it and to whom? At the end, any Cancel Culture always seems to add up to suffocating and diminishing our humanity, rather than freeing and elevating it. 


Marina Stephens is a lawyer and a writer, who grew up in St. Petersburg USSR and immigrated to the United States in 1978. She is the wife of Len Homeniuk and mother of Jessica, Madeleine, and Anton.

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