Yesterday I read a book that featured some excellent characters and a most intriguing plot. One of the reasons the story worked so well was because, in a wicked twist revealed toward the end of the book, one of those characters who had appeared throughout the story as an heroic figure turned out to be both an antihero and an antagonist, albeit unwillingly.
An antihero is a character who appears to be a champion of the cause but lacks the usual heroic qualities one might expect, such as bravery or honesty. An antagonist works against the hero or protagonist and their efforts to resolve the conflicts and complications of the plot.
Interestingly, antihero and antagonist both have roots in the same word element: anti.
To be anti-something is to oppose it in belief, thought and/or action.
The prefix anti- is very old, dating back to Ancient Greek and, even before that, Sanskrit and Proto-Indo-European. It means against, opposed to, or opposite of. It can also mean in front of or before.
From the Greek, it made its way into Latin, and thence into Italian, Spanish, English and French. That makes it a prefix that is very widely understood around the world, and one that is attached to many, many words to add a sense of opposition or contrast.
Thus, although anti-masker is a quite recent term and antichrist is a designation as old as the Gospel itself, we understand both equally well because of the simple clarity and strength of the anti- prefix.
There has been a lot of discussion and a fair bit of outrage over recent months about different things being “cancelled”.
The term ‘cancel culture’ is thrown around quite liberally in response to a particular movie or TV show that will no longer be aired, a book that will no longer be published, or someone’s social media account being shut down. ‘Cancel culture’ is often used as a slur to denigrate those who stand by the principles of integrity, equality and collectively being better about racism or hatred than we once were.
While it is true that sometimes such measures go too far or seem to be nitpicking, there are things which we should be willing to put behind us because we now understand and acknowledge they are hurtful or misrepresent the true nature of a group of people or a situation.
If something is racist, misogynistic or hateful, it should definitely be set aside and left in the past. We’re not saying it never existed: just that we don’t to continue being like that. As we move further into the 21st century, our society has evolved to understand things differently than we did a hundred, or even fifty, years ago.
If someone posts hate speech or promotes violence on social media, it goes against the terms and conditions agreed to when opening their account. Their ability to post might be restricted for a time, or shut down permanently. That’s not being cancelled: that’s the consequence of posting what they should not.
If someone disagrees or is offended by something another person posts, they are free to scroll past, or mute or block the poster. That is not cancelling: it’s a choice made by the individual to limit another person’s negativity and it’s effects on them personally.
Personally, I have blocked certain people because I find their views repugnant. Others have probably blocked me, and I am completely okay with that: I am not so deluded as to expect everyone else to like me or to agree with my perspectives.
If I discover that I have said or written something hurtful, hateful, or offensive, I’ll gladly apologise and unpublish it. I have done so in the past, because I am not perfect and I am the first to admit it. That’s not being cancelled, that’s being a decent person.
The decision made by the estate of Dr Seuss to no longer publish six of his many books is not cancelling all his books: it is an acknowledgement that some elements of those six books are problematic and may do more harm than good to the ongoing legacy of the much-loved author. You will still be able to read Green Eggs and Ham or Yertle the Turtle to your kids.
Backlash against certain politicians, journalists or other public figures over things they have said or done isn’t cancelling them. They still actually have more of a voice than most of us do. It’s just a consequence of them being horrible to other people and, quite frankly, they should be talking a good hard look at themselves instead of accusing others of being intolerant.
Thus, while some decry ‘cancel culture’ and accuse others of being closed-minded, it is far more often the direct consequences of speech, though or actions that are no longer acceptable to many members of society. As uncomfortable as that truth may be for some, there are some things that really should be discarded and left in the past.
A million authors writing to entertain others. A million poets bleeding their souls onto the page. A million people trying to help others. A million people who are actually loyal. A million teachers going the extra mile for their kids. A million people caring for someone they love.
It might be easy to get lost in the crowd. It’s easy to feel insignificant. One tree among a million in the forest, so to speak. But I know I am one in a million.
We all write and grieve and serve and give of ourselves differently. Each of us is unique. Each of us is a distinct blend of personality, talent and substance.
Not a single one of us is worthless.
I may not stand out among the million. I may never strike it rich or become famous. I may never be someone else’s ideal. I cannot be perfect.
The truth is, I don’t have to.None of us do.
What matters is the contrast with some of the other people on this planet: the hateful, the cruel, the greedy, the selfish, the power-hungry, the narcissists. What matters is that I stand against the things they accept. What matters is that I am true to who I am, to my priorities, my values, my faith.
What matters is integrity. That’s what stands out in this world.
That, more than anything else, makes me one in a million.
A very good friend of mine has been on the receiving end of some butt-ugly treatment lately.
It’s the second time in the last 18 months that I have been aware of people I know wilfully acting to assassinate someone’s character. Those people should hang their heads in shame. They absolutely know better. They are intelligent, professional people with families of their own.
My friend is not perfect. I don’t see how that justifies anything. She is fully aware of her flaws, and nobody is perfect, least of all me. There is no excuse for the way she has been treated.
The following are ugly and ungodly behaviours which amount to verbal bullying and vilification:
1. Sharing someone else’s story or personal information when one has no business doing so.
2. Telling a story about someone when one has only heard half of it.
3. Going behind someone’s back and telling falsehoods or half-truths about people to those who are their friends.
4. Attempting to ingratiate oneself by putting someone else down.
5. Veiling these behaviours behind “I thought you should know” or “We need to pray for ******” or “I am so concerned, I had to share it with someone”.
6. Taking pleasure in gossip or in shaming someone.
Do not ever ask me to listen to or excuse these things.
These are not things friends do.
These are not things nice people do.
Sadly, they are things that some people who claim to be Christians do.
What ever happened to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “Love your neighbour as yourself”?