Why champions of good causes are sometimes so intolerant (Thoughts on cancel culture)

Suppose someone champions a good cause such as making society more equitable. Yet if anyone objects to their particular plans for bringing about equality, these activists often condemn their objectors with such derogatory labels as to have them “cancelled.”

Actually, the objectors may not be bad people; they may even sympathize with the cause, but disagree over how to best further it. For example, equality crusaders may want to redistribute wealth by imposing heavy taxes on the wealthy and providing generous welfare to the needy. Their critics may object that wealth distribution will make the wealthy evade taxes and the poor evade responsibility. However, instead of addressing such concerns rationally, equality crusaders often condemn their critics as sell-outs to the wealthy or similar moralizing labels. 

Going beyond the specifics of any particular cause, it’s a common human tendency to criticize those who criticize us. Yet we know at some level that this tendency isn’t always desirable. Why? Because our critics can often teach us something valuable. However, when we believe that we are morally superior to them, we become more inclined to criticize them. Standing atop our moral high ground, we may convict them as not just wrong, but also wrongheaded. And that conviction may become our justification to treat them disrespectfully. 

By such intolerance, we end up damaging the very cause we believe we are defending. How? Three ways. By blinding ourselves to potentially helpful insights. By alienating neutral observers from our cause. By converting well-meaning critics into trenchant enemies. 

Pertinently, the Bhagavad-gita (13.08) indicates that humility is the first characteristic of the wise; when we lose humility, we place ourselves among the unwise, even if our cause is noble. 

One-sentence summary: 

If we become offensively intolerant toward our critics, we end up undermining the very cause we believe we are upholding. 

Think it over:

  • When do we become blinded to our tendency to criticize our critics?
  • By criticizing our critics, how do we undermine our cause?
  • Why does humility matter for those championing a good cause?


13.08: Humility; pridelessness; nonviolence; tolerance; simplicity; approaching a bona fide spiritual master; cleanliness; steadiness; self-control; … [ – all these I declare to be knowledge].

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1 Comment

  1. JAPA wanes the intolerance

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