Two of my MicroBook clients asked me a similar question recently: should I use this story?
In one case, the story was about Cardi B, and it fit perfectly with the point my client was making. But a beta reader had flagged up a story from Cardi’s past — something bad (and it was bad) the rapper had done in a previous life, before she became a singer. And because of that, the reader was offended by the inclusion of the story in the MicroBook.
My other client asked a more general question: how do I research someone thoroughly, to check they haven’t done something terrible that I don’t know about? To check they’re not a terrible person? She was worried about getting “cancelled”.
Literally every time I write something, I worry that people will hate me for it. I’m worried about putting this piece out because I know some people will vehemently disagree with what I’m about to say — which doesn’t bother me in and of itself.
What I worry about is people yelling at me about it.
Disagreement and debate is grand; but I don’t like being yelled at. Who does?
So here’s my take on it.
Do your due diligence, sure. Make sure the person you’re quoting or telling a story about serves your purpose in this context. Make sure they align with your values.
In the past, I’ve quoted business owners who I now vehemently disagree with; whose values are very far from mine… and that’s okay. I’m not gonna excise those words from my own history and rewrite my books. As far as I’m concerned, they’re a sign of my own personal growth. And they served the purpose at the time. Now I know better.
I look back at stuff I wrote in the past all the time and cringe, and I think that’s a good thing. It means I’m learning, growing, changing.
If our criteria for telling stories and learning lessons and being inspired by people and using them as examples of something specific is that those people must be spotlessly perfect, we’ll never write anything. We’ll never share anecdotes or examples because those perfect people don’t exist.
Everyone has skeletons in their closet; we all have done stuff in our pasts that we’re not proud of.
But here’s the thing: we are not our mistakes. Doing a bad thing doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person. The world is not black and white, however simple (and boring) life would be if it were; the world is shades of grey and context and nuance are often everything.
Do not hear what I am not saying here: I am not gonna debate anyone’s humanity or right to exist. I am not going to give a platform or exposure to people who champion hate. That’s not what this is about.
This is about being able to hold two opposing ideas in our heads at the same time without having a meltdown over it.
Cardi B once did a very bad thing. (She acknowledges that.)
AND her reinvention and growth as a person and musican made her an excellent example to use in my client’s MicroBook.
By using that story, my client isn’t absolving Cardi B of all her past sins; nobody can do that, and it’s nobody else’s business. She’s not saying, “Cardi B is perfect hurrah!” She’s not even endorsing her music.
(Although if she was, she wouldn’t be doing anything wrong.)
By using the story, my client is simply using the story to make a point.
For sure, check that the person you’re writing about or quoting isn’t the devil incarnate.
And if you do have a catchy quote from a problematic person, maybe do a little digging to see if someone whose values are more aligned with yours has said something you can use instead.
But don’t be silenced by your own fear.
And ask yourself this if you’re hesitating: whatever that person did in the past, are they the same person now?
Should they be punished forever, or can we allow people the grace and space to grow and change?
I know what I’d like to happen, if any of my past mistakes caught up with me.