Monday, July 19, 2010

Mentoring Monday: Tolerance

After a week off Aymee is back with another amazing post. She's so close to her due date! Can't wait to see Ms. Maddie next month!!
Dear Maddie,
              Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about two words: tolerance and respect. These are words that will play a part in important lessons for you throughout life. I’ve been chewing on these words because of two stories in recent news. The first being the efforts of Minnesota Pride Fest organizers to refuse entry to an “anti-gay evangelist” from passing out Bibles and preaching at the public event like he has done in years past[1]The second being the efforts of some to prevent moderate American Muslims from building a Muslim community center near Ground Zero[2]. What does the word tolerance mean, you ask? Good question kiddo. Tolerance is defined by the dictionary as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own…” Bigotry is one of the main downfalls in humans. It is an age-old flaw that to this day infects many in our societies, creating unrest on every kind of level. The more people who truly learn to be tolerant of others, the more we can achieve. Why be tolerant of others? Another good question! Answer: because it is respectful.
You will encounter people throughout your life that will treat you or someone else unkindly. When you’re younger, these people are called bullies. When you get older, these people are usually referred to as a**holes. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, maybe it’s just the Midwest in me; but I’m big on manners and showing respect to others, and I will teach you to do the same. Gestures go a long way: holding the door for someone and saying “Thank you” when someone holds the door for you; looking people in the eye; waving a “Thank you” gesture when you’re driving and someone lets you into their lane; saying “Hello,” and maybe a “How are you?” to the check-out clerk at the store; saying “Sir” or “M’aam” when talking to people—even in an informal conversation, it shows respect. Words and gestures are very powerful, and when used carelessly can hurt just as much, sometimes more than, a punch to the face. If you are kind to those around you, you will earn respect from others in return and attract true friends who will always be there for you. This is what truly makes a person rich in life. The opposite will earn you flakey “friends,” who will not be there when you really need them; they will only be around when they want something from you.
Some call it “karma;” some call it “getting what you deserve.” Regardless, a life of disrespect will also reap a life of anger. If you regularly disrespect others, you will receive the same in return which will make you angry and bitter. No one aims to live like that. It is a slippery slope one goes down when they don’t pay it forward. This won’t always be easy. In fact, I think it’s easier to not go the extra step and hold the door for someone, or say thank you, or smile at someone. The same goes for tolerance. It is certainly easier to deny another what they want than it is to allow something you don’t agree with. It takes a little effort to accept someone who is different than you. Sometimes, it’s even more difficult to be tolerant of someone who acts or believes in a way that you don’t like. People like this might annoy, or anger, you. But it is important to think before you speak or act in instances like this.
              Here’s an example: recently, I went to the store for my weekly grocery run. I approached the checkout area to find it packed; only a few lanes open and every lane had a long line of customers waiting to check out. I entered the shortest line behind a middle-aged man with a few household appliances in his cart. He quickly noticed I was behind him, approached me, and began spouting off his uninvited opinion about how terrible the store was, and then jumped into something about “scripture. He caught me off-guard; I didn’t understand what prompted him to step up on his soapbox. I had no interest in listening to his opinion, especially since I knew most of it was misinformation most likely collected from hot-head political-extremist talk radio. (only 10% of what he said was factual and not outdated). Nor did I have any interest biting his bait for a debate in the middle of a busy store checkout lane on a Saturday. Of course, my head was swimming with smart-a** remarks like, “If they’re so awful, why do you support them with your money?” But I said nothing. I’m all for intellectual discussions, but not with people who only want to hear themselves speak. I assumed he fell into this pool because he started this conversation without provocation. When he realized he wasn’t going to be successful in getting a rise out of me, agreement or disagreement, he left his cart in line, and walked two lanes over to try his doctrine on the poor sap waiting patiently in line like the rest of us. Did I find him annoying? Yes. Did I think to myself, “I wish he’d shut up?” Yes. But silencing him would not have been the right thing to do. Telling him to “shut up” would have been rude, and would have had the opposite effect. (Let it be said your punk-rock father would say otherwise; he would likely have told the man to piss off. That’s okay too. You have the right to, but know that it only eggs people like that on; they won’t find it respectful and will most likely react in a like manner. Choose your words with your desired end in mind.) Everyone should have their soapbox to stand on if they so choose, even if that means they break it out in the middle of the checkout lane on a busy Saturday afternoon. I don’t have to agree with him, and I don’t have to like what he’s saying. I don’t even have to listen. But I do have to tolerate him because he had every right to do what he did, and that right is a beautiful thing. Tolerance was putting up with him for the ten minutes it took to get through the checkout lane.
Let’s take another example from the news stories I mentioned earlier. In both instances, we have two sides that don’t like each other’s point of view. Who’s right and wrong is for another discussion. The lesson I want to instill in you first is that both sides have a right to think and feel the way they do. But both sides should be tolerant of the other, even if it’s difficult to do so. This is a high form of respect. As long as neither side is violent or disruptive, this is healthy. It’s not easy for either side to do, but sometimes we have to do things that are hard for us, and we are stronger because of it. In the second news story, there was a great quote I wanted to share with you. It is a quote from Herbert Ouida, a parent of a 9-11 victim. He is speaking of the conflict in New York as to whether or not allow a Muslim community center to be built near Ground Zero: "I understand the anger, the bitterness and hatred, but it only generates more hatred." This quote reminds me of another that I love and believe so strongly that I had it tattooed on my arm: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Out of this light, this kind of love, comes the strength for tolerance.
Sometimes, doing the right thing is hard or uncomfortable. But it is of the upmost importance that we press on, and do the right thing anyway if we are to live peacefully. The golden rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. Bottom line: You, and no one else, should be the one to decide what you do with your body, who you love, what you believe, what you fight for, etc. and you should have the freedom to live according to those beliefs. But in order to achieve that, you must respect another’s freedom to choose differently from you. We all don’t have to agree with each other. But we must respect each other’s freedom of choice, even if we don’t like their choices. And the beautiful thing about America is we can disagree, have the freedom to say so, and have intellectual debates on why. That kind of dialogue is healthy. It’s not always easy to listen to why someone thinks you’re wrong. Sometimes you will be wrong. Sometimes you will be right and they will be wrong. And sometimes, you both must agree to disagree and move on. And you don’t have to listen to someone’s opinion: that’s your choice whether or not to listen. But as long as they aren’t violent or disruptive, you do have to allow them the freedom to voice that opinion.

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