Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stupid and Simple-minded

We hear a lot from people about tolerance. Basically, we are supposed to tolerate the point of view of others who do not agree with us. Sadly, I’ve seen it happen all too often that the people who demand tolerance the most are often the last to give it.

I’ve been called stupid and simple-minded (and yes those were the actual words used) while answering the seemingly innocent question, “What did you do over the weekend?” The problem wasn’t that I saw a movie or that I slept in on Saturday, it was because my list of weekend activities, included church. Gasp!

Am I supposed to tolerate someone who calls me names because I don’t ascribe to his belief system? Is tolerance letting someone talk down to me and insult me without being given a chance to respond?

Politics is another arena rife with intolerance. It has become perfectly acceptable for parties on both sides to be mean-spirited, call names and treat those who hold different beliefs in contempt … all the while making their demands for tolerance. There are political pundits and blowhards on both sides who have made a career out of intolerance and it’s scary.

True tolerance runs both ways. You should give the tolerance you want to receive. It starts with recognizing that although our religions, races, politics, sexual preferences, and so on, might be different, we all share some very basic commonalities. We are all human beings. We all experience love and loss, hope and despair, fear and anger. We all need food, water, and sleep to survive. We need to treat each other with the basic respect we crave, not because someone agrees or disagrees with us but because that someone is a someone.

After recognizing someone’s humanity, the next step is to recognize their individuality. I’ve noticed there is a tendency to group people together and demonize all of them. In the diatribe that followed after I admitted going to church, my co-worker assumed that I hated gays and wished AIDS on them (which I definitely do not) and that I held contempt for atheist and people of other faiths (which I do not). I stopped being a human being and became one of them. It’s easy to detest those people; it’s harder to detest a him, a her or a me.

If you want to receive tolerance, be the first to give it.

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