By Karen Vanegas


By Karen Vanegas

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column originally was written for an assignment in Public Affairs Communication in the online master’s degree program in the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

“Cancel Culture.” It’s “the practice of withdrawing support for (or canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive” (Lizza).

Moreover, “the internet has changed the way we cancel, and extended cancellation’s reach” (Douthat).

Psychologist Peter Coleman suggests that “progressives were extremely frustrated and enraged” over the election of Donald Trump. “Trump did everything in his power — and even beyond it — to poke his finger in the eye of progressives,” Coleman asserts, “by dismantling every environmental regulation, filling the federal court benches with right-wing activist judges, sometimes seeming to fan the flames of white supremacy, attacking racial equality efforts, disenfranchising minority voters and sabotaging every multilateral treaty that he can.”

Former President Barack Obama called out cancel culture in 2019: “That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”

I get it. So much. I’m a woman. I’m a minority. I too was frustrated. I confess, I had post-traumatic stress disorder. From experiencing election night in 2016 in a newsroom in Washington, D.C. to being in my university’s journalism school the day after, where if students weren’t crying, one could hear a pin drop…

But I’m not interested in judging neither the left nor the right. I am interested in being constructive and fighting negativity bias. I am interested in bridging divisions in American society.

As real as social issues and social justice are, so are feelings of apprehension and fear— because of cancel culture. At times, I keep my opinions to private conversations as I am afraid that what I openly say—or don’t say—will be perceived negatively. What ally wants to be shamed? I will never know the experiences of others just as others will never know my experiences. However, that does not mean that I cannot be supportive of certain people and ideas.

Unfortunately, cancel culture has silenced me even before speaking up and speaking out.

Coleman suggests that “the left can bolster itself and fight cancel culture by encouraging “diversity of thought, conflict and dissonance within the tent of progressives.”

So, how do we level up?

Welcoming better arguments is a start. Regardless of where we stand along the political (and/or social) aisle and as set forth by The Better Arguments Project, we could and should:

  • Take winning off the table: “prioritize understanding another person’s point of view”
  • Listen passionately: commit to listen
  • Pay attention to context: acknowledge culture (and the thoughts and emotions associated with it)
  • Embrace vulnerability: it is necessary and “can lead to progress”
  • And above all, make room to transform.

“A Better Argument is a transformational experience for all involved. Without a goal of winning or even reaching resolution, the goal of a better argument becomes to change how we engage with one another to build a community.”

By employing these strategies, I have been able to both listen and be heard, which is an art in this day and age!

I engage in difficult but necessary conversations and have learned firsthand that listening passionately truly encourages tolerance around diverse opinions. At the end, we may agree to disagree, but ultimately, being open to bridging divisions by understanding other perspectives is a start. No election, no president, will be the solution to this country’s  polarization—it us to up each and every one of us. The space we hold for one another will allow us to move forward, hopefully together, as a nation.

All in all, the principles of a better argument will be more productive if at the core, we acknowledge that we are all human and we are honest about the power—or lack thereof—that we bring into the conversation.

Say no to cancel culture (ironic, right?). Say no to negativity…

Here’s to bridging divisions… and to a “low-bad diet.”

Cin cin!


Karen Vanegas
Karen Vanegas

Karen Vanegas is from Bogotá, Colombia. She and her family moved to the United States when she was six years old. Today, Karen lives in New York City and works as an External Communications Senior Associate at PwC. She is pursuing a Master of Arts in Mass Communication degree with a specialization in Global Strategic Communication from the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. She graduated from the University of Maryland in 2017 with a double major in Broadcast Journalism and Government & Politics and a minor in French Studies.

“I would also like to share that I was undocumented, a DREAMer, and a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient,” Karen says. “Fortunately, I was eligible for Adjustment of Status. To say my life changed is an understatement!”

“More than anything, my own narrative is what made me gravitate to public affairs and politics. Now, I consider myself a world citizen with the utmost desire to connect and engage as a digital, global, and strategic communicator.”

Related Posts