Steve Woods

From Tolerance to Acceptance

In Social Media, What Day is it? on November 16, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Tolerance n. 1. Recognition of and respect for the opinions, beliefs, or actions of others. 2. The amount of variation from a standard that is allowed. 3. Capacity to withstand pain or hardship. 4. Physical resistance to poison.

I thought I’d start out with a propaganda film from the 1950’s regarding Homosexuality, just to put you in the mood…

The video was created in 1961 by filmmaker Sid Davis, and was funded by both the Inglewood Police Department and his Inglewood Unified School District.  In those days, it was acceptable for government monies to help propagate the myth that Homosexuality was a “sickness of the mind,” or that gay men were pedophiles.  Although as a rule we’ve stopped using government funds to share such idiocy, the myths still exist in the minds of people we come across daily, and the ideals resulting from such falsehoods still slip out of the mouths of many.

Example of sadly familiar hate-tweets

Three days ago, I blocked a person on Twitter, an action that I reserve for spam-bots, britney-bots, someone trying to sell me something, people who are rude or obnoxious, and your garden-variety bigots.   This particular person fell under the last of those categories, and I had no qualms whatsoever as the block happened in a knee-jerk manner.

The last tweet I will ever see from the guy read something like this, “Here’s my daily sound-off on the Muslims.  They have no business being in America. Round em up and ship em off.” (I changed it a bit so nobody would find the guy using Twitter Search and slam him too badly…)

I don’t miss the guy, and he was completely lost to memory until I saw what day it was today – International Day of Tolerance.  So the question arose in me – Was I, too, being intolerant?  Should I have continued to follow the guy, despite his demonstrated hatred of those he obviously knew little about?

The Importance of Tolerance

We walk among our history, good or bad.

The next time you’re walking down a crowded street, take a moment to think about the incredible variety of backgrounds surrounding you.  The man walking by you enjoying his latté  may have come from grandparents who were chased from their homeland by people hating their faith.  The woman juggling the cell phone while folding and tucking the newly purchased newspaper may have heard hushed stories from her father about dear friends or relatives being killed simply because of their race.

We are the culmination of the co-mingled hopes and dreams of our ancestors, the centuries of hard work and strife as each generation before ours was pushed forward, cajoled and upbraided, supported and loved.  We are also the product of the intolerance our ancestors suffered, as well as the intolerance they may have shown to others.  The wounds are still there, if you look closely enough, listen carefully enough.  You can still easily find the stereotyping, the racial jokes, the homophobic commentary, and the fear and anger it incites in those that are ultimately its victims, the pain and hardship that stereotyped individuals have had to endure.

Remember these guys? Did you know them?

With each passing generation, the anger dims a bit, as tolerance spreads further, rippling outward from those that are exemplars of it.  There also remain those that abhor tolerance, angry vacuums of bigotry, using all available means to suck in those that are unprepared to face the variety of existence around them.  It is our role to face these black holes of hatred head-on, to become immune to their poisons, so that others do not lose their entire lives to it.

Raised to See the Difference?

We have grown up in a world that sees the differences, categorizing each other since early childhood. The playgrounds and hallways of our youth held the jocks, the populars, the socials, the nerds, the loners, the rockers, the goths, the emos, the eggheads, the geeks and endless other categories of those that were different.  Some of us wended and weaved among these groups, picking and choosing friends as we found fellowship in the varied ranks of many.  Many of us did not, choosing one group or another to temporarily identify with.

Tolerance must be learned, must be shared and supported as a life-skill.  Without it, our children will not be able to wend and weave their way through life, will find it difficult to reach across those artificial boundaries, and will be stunted in their ability to connect to a wider World filled with different people being rapidly woven together through social media and technology.  Without the ability to tolerate, people get paid by us to make movies to frighten our children with lies. And worse.

The Teaching of Tolerance

“The highest result of education is tolerance.” ~ Helen Keller

It always starts at home...

The teaching of tolerance begins at home, with how we behave and what we say around our family, especially our children.  Even the smallest allowance for stereotyping or discrimination cracks the door ajar for more, like dirty little flies scurrying into our home.

Avoid stereotyping -It is assumed that if you are reading this post, you know that people of all races are equally as intelligent, as funny, as quiet, as athletic, as studious, as hardworking.  Avoid the urge to lump in others who may share a physical trait, sexual orientation, or religious faith, no matter how many similarities you believe you have found in your experience.  Young children reside in what must seem to be a very complicated world, and many will readily grasp at these oversimplifications.  It’s a nasty little short-cut that bypasses true learning about the people around them, and should be avoided at all costs.

Avoid derogatory terms – If you have used derogatory terms in the past, stop.  And not just around your children, either.  Never denigrate others, no matter what they have done to offend or hurt you.  If you must vent, avoid the use of degrading terms related to race, sexual preference or religious background.  If you tell jokes or “funny” stories with those terms, you are simply hurting your children’s ability to tolerate differences they come across in others later in life. Examine the use of terms such as “That’s so gay,” and you will see how it poisons the atmosphere for others.

Be the example – Start at home and begin to learn how to tolerate the differences in opinion your spouse and children have with you. Listening is key in this.  The former head of the United Nations Kofi Annan, one of the most powerful negotiators in modern times, is noted for his ability to listen at the bargaining table.  Ask simple and meaningful questions to learn how other’s think, and they in turn will be more open to your thoughts. Speak respectfully, even in the heat of an argument.  And try to keep your opinions to yourself when it comes to how your teens’ friends dress.

From Tolerance to Acceptance

How big is your circle of friends?

The word tolerance has the connotation of “putting up with” someone, rather than accepting them. When we merely put up with working in the presence of an openly gay person, we are practicing the 2nd definition of tolerance, allowing for a so-called variation or deviation from what we believe to be the personal standard or societal norm. But if you discovered your coworkers merely put up with your presence in the office, how would it affect you? Where we define the area to draw our acceptable standards from is one way to move toward acceptance.

You can choose to restrict the definition of acceptable behavior to that found within your own home,  where everybody comes from shared values, experiences, race and faith. Anyone outside this tight circle would be a variation, a deviation of some sort.  But move your vision to the neighborhood, and what is acceptable expands with the borderline.  Now we have to include in what is “normal” the Gays and Lesbians, Muslims and Jews, Blacks, Hispanics and Whites that reside within this wider circle.  So many new capitalized words! So many interesting people!

When you move the sweep of the circle to encompass our entire nation, the variations are almost impossible to behold, and the border defining what is the standard blurs.  If this is from where you draw your definition of standard or norm, then you must now see the Bisexuals, Transgenders, people of mixed-race, all variety of faiths and intra-faith sects, agnostics and atheists, and so forth.  Gets pretty hard now, doesn’t it, to place someone as a variation or deviation from the standard, huh?

Of course, many of us expand  of our circle of acceptance only to the boundaries of our chosen faith and/or morality, and I understand this concept.  I cannot fault you for doing so, and do appreciate the extent to which some of us live closer to those boundaries, for it is at those moral walls that we hear the voices of the Outsiders.  Perhaps from time to time we can peek around and say hello…

Teaching Ourselves Acceptance

So how do we draw such a big circle, and move ourselves from tolerance to acceptance?

There's room under the rainbows...

Learn about other faiths – From Churches and Synagogues to Mosques and Temples, go out and learn about others’ faiths by participating in events there, and meeting their adherents.  Scan your local newspaper’s faith section for cultural fairs, open houses and open worship nights.  Say hello, try some interesting foods, ask a bunch of questions, mispronounce things, pick up some literature, and enjoy the similarities found in our common desire toward morally desirable behavior.  Look for interfaith alliance groups and lend your voice, too.

Show support for people of all sexual orientations – There’s plenty of space in Gay Pride parades for straight people to help hold up those big, beautiful banners. Ask your local chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Gays and Lesbians) if they need any help with fundraising or activities.  Attend candlelight vigils in support of equal marriage rights, and share a cup of coffee with those seeking legal acceptance of life-long love and commitment. Read and learn about the difficulties encountered in the lives of transgenders.  Don’t worry, they’ll like you, too…

Become a community advocate against Racism – Donate time and/or money to help organizations that combat Racism in your community.  Make a few phone calls and ask if you can help flip pancakes for fundraisers, or attend speeches by civil rights leaders who come to town.  Take some time off from work to march with others whenever you can.  Shake hands and meet people in attendance, and begin networking with them.  Write to your local paper and exhort others to join in rallies against Racism and bigotry.

Creating a Global Standard

Our place is with them...

But what of an even grander sweep of vision, encompassing the incredible richness of human life on our whole planet?  Can you draw your circle of friends this wide? In this view, we gaze upon all of humanity, and all ethnic, religious and sexual differences disappear. We are left viewing the breadth of “human” existence.   From this standpoint, our backgrounds, orientations and preferences are no longer limited to what is valued in just our family, our neighborhood, our region or nation.  We become a part of the human PhotoShop colorwheel, blending into the person next to us, interconnected and part of a loving rainbow.

In a global existence, it is much easier to move from tolerance of others to acceptance of all.  From this place, how far is it to move into the warm embrace of those around us?  We are all equals, with so much to learn from each other.  We talk and share openly, visit each other’s places of worship in respect and admiration, breaking a variety of breads in fellowship at each other’s tables.  A much greater compassion is learned from connecting with each other, and soon, those that discriminate and differentiate become the variation from the standard.

The Global Standard and Social Media

Social media is teaching us to look across borders, finding fellowship in the wonderful people of all races, all backgrounds, all preferences.   We sign up, log on, and are soon swimming in what seems to be, at first, a sea of difference.  As we talk and share, view pictures of loved ones and celebrations, listen to music on instruments we cannot pronounce, receive recipes for foods we previously did not know existed, the armor of our stereotypes begin to fail us.  With the veil of distance removed, we go from seeing the differences to the similarities we all hold, and reveling in our new-found together-ness.

So was I being too harsh on the guy who was bashing all Muslims? Should I have left him in my stream as a sign of tolerance? I don’t think so, and here’s why.  Tolerance has its limits.  We should never tolerate words that harm or threaten to harm another.  Race-baiting, religious intolerance, and hatred run counter to the desired goal of greater  tolerance and acceptance.  I choose not to provide a forum for poisonous behavior, to lend even a speck of legitimacy by having him listed in my followers.  I don’t have time for haters, because I am spending all of my time in the company of wonderful people here seeking to know me, as I come to know them…

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  1. I read this: “So the question arose in me – Was I, too, being intolerant? Should I have continued to follow the guy, despite his demonstrated hatred of those he obviously knew little about?” and I knew where you where headed.

    No, you didn’t have to keep following that guy. You did the exact right thing: you allowed him to engage in free speech. By blocking him, you simply opted not to participate in his form of free speech. You did nothing to hinder him or harm him.

    Then you went on to impose the current interpretation of “tolerance” onto the definition with which your article began. You assert that merely putting up with someone/something is insufficient. What makes up for that insufficiency? Endorsement! We may not simply allow others to be as they wish while we offer no negative impact; we must embrace and endorse whatever it is that we find different.

    And that is where we part company. I will make no effort to stop you from saying that I am insufficiently tolerating my fellow by simply staying out of his/her way. In that way, I am tolerating you. I do not, though, embrace the meaning you read into the definition which appears at the top of your article. Nowhere does that definition call for embracing, endorsing, advancing a cause, etc. I recognize and respect your opinion as stated, and acknowledge your belief in the rightness of your action. However, I choose to do nothing to further spread your expression, nor to block it. Neither do I endorse your interpretation.

    I’m tolerating you. It can, indeed, be passive.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I do appreciate any and all comments, as well as points of view. We must all live within the boundaries of our personal morality, and I appreciate that you do…


    • BTW, I added another paragraph, to temper what I said to some extent, because I understand where are coming from…. Again, thanks again for your input!

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