When I was in my twenties, I remember my mom telling someone that she felt successful as a parent because all three of her children were tolerant. I remember another person in the group looking confused, so she continued. “Whether it was from our example or their own life experiences, they all appreciate and enjoy people from all walks of life.” While I am certain that our desire to get to know the hearts of people we encounter was a learned behavior is a direct reflection of our parents’ demands that we look people in the eyes (just one eye for me, duh), listen when people speak, and to engage in conversation with those who might not be the same as us; lately, I find the word tolerant, well I find it intolerable.
To me, tolerant has a connotation that the tolerator is reaching down from a loftier position than the tolerated. It seems to imply that a service is being given. I tolerate flossing my teeth. It is annoying and gross, but I know that I have to do it. When I drink green smoothies (no berries), I tolerate the aftertaste because I know it’s better for me than a cheeseburger. I tolerate the song “Celebrate Good Times,” because I know that the annoying lyrics and melody make some of my friends feel like they are on a Carnival cruise ship with an umbrella-clad drink rather than sitting in Atlanta traffic. Let me keep it real, sometimes I don’t floss my teeth because I don’t want to; I eat way more cheeseburgers than green smoothies; and I have happily listened to silence and foregone the nails on the chalkboard sounds of Kool and the Gang’s little ditty. You can do that with stupid things you tolerate like food and music, but you can’t do that with people.
I spent many hours glued to CNN yesterday, as many of you did, trying to make sense of the shootings in Orlando. I watched friends and family members begging for information about their loved ones. I bawled as I watched law enforcement and government officials fight back tears. I wanted to curl up in my little house and never leave the comfort of Molly’s recliner. I listened as religious experts and political pundits suggested avenues of reconciliation for this massacre. The overall theme of the day seemed to be: tolerance.
It was suggested that we as a nation need to teach tolerance. Perhaps this individual needed to learn to tolerate other religions. He needed to tolerate those who identify themselves as gay. Our country had failed at teaching this first generation U.S. citizen, tolerance. My friends, if we approach our young people, telling them to tolerate those who are different from themselves, we are teaching them that their own lifestyle is superior. We are teaching them to view others who are different as people who need tolerance. We are telling them that it’s okay to slip back to their higher position on occasion.
Perhaps the problem is not that we are not teaching tolerance. Perhaps the problem is that we are teaching tolerance. If my parents’ example had simply been that of tolerance, my heart wouldn’t be bleeding over the loss of so many lives today. Tolerance is born out of a belief that one way is higher than another. It’s easy to let go of the something you think is beneath you. We have to change our rhetoric and our actions. We have to do more than tolerate. If we follow Molly’s example of having radical conversations with people borne out of kindness, we will see that we can leave tolerance for inconsequential things like the 90210 years without Brandon and Brenda. If we truly get to know our co-workers, our neighbors, our cab drivers, our teachers, our students, the homeless man on the street, that mom who is always late picking up her kids, the obnoxious dude in our book clubs, or the politician who leans opposite of our own beliefs, we will find that embracing others doesn’t hurt our backs from bending down, and it’s much harder to let go.
I can’t fix the problems that our world is facing. I can’t fix the heartache that so many families are feeling tonight. I can’t even give blood to donate to victims. What I can do, is challenge myself to erase tolerance from my vernacular. If someone asks my mom what she is most proud of as a parent, I hope she’ll be able to say that she raised children who embrace and allow others to embrace them.
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”– Ghandi
More than meat loves salt for Orlando, for our nation, for the rescuers, for the medical staff, for the families….