I've been reading a lot on tolerance and accepting people as they are, no matter their cultural heritage, their skin colour, their religion and it occurs to me that I'm not particularly thrilled with "tolerance". I know this doesn't sound good but bear with me a little as I explain a bit further where I'm going with this.
The word, tolerance has a negative connotation to me. When I think of tolerance I get a negative feeling. Tolerance is putting up with something that I don't particularly enjoy as in "I will tolerate something...I don't really like it much but I'll put up with it and understand it's important and valid but really, I don't like it much, but yeah, I'll tolerate ". Somehow this is the feeling that comes to me with the word tolerance, the buzz word of the civil rights and equal rights movement.
I understand it's just a word and that it is the appropriate label to use these days but it doesn't quite work for me. Let me explain my position further on this.
I have a different way of looking at differences between the races and individuals within the races. Instead of tolerating them I move beyond that. I accept that we all are each different, and I embrace it! Whether a person is the same colour or race as I am or of a different culture or race, is irrelevant to me. I take the opportunity to learn about that person and who they are as an individual. I learn from the differences and consider myself better off for it.
It is easier to have people around me that think mostly like I do, it's good to have people you have things in common with to support you in your decision and your life but the best lessons in life are learned from those with differences. And to learn and discover how other people think and learn and grow is infinitely more exciting, even if there is disagreement there.
I have not learned about the effect of racism on the African-American people in the United states by simply tolerating the differences, I have gotten in there and asked and learned. There are certainly differences between African American people in the United States and white Americans because the experiences they've had, the history that has made their culture exists completely based on the colour of their skin.
The first thing I need to do is not tolerate the differences but accept them and then from there move into learning and believing that their differences do not come from the colour of their skin but rather the way they are treated due to the colour of their skin. I can embrace the difference, and accept that it's there, as part of the essence of that individual and love that the differences exist but know that they really don't matter.
I have always been interested in different cultures, different religions, and I've found that at the core all people are basically the same. Every religion has it's crazies, every culture has its negatives and that certainly includes mine. And those groups are generally LOUD. Knowing that people are all different within all cultures is exciting and makes the possibility for gaining knowledge infinite!
One of my best days was sitting with a neighbour while she showed me her wedding pictures. She had returned to India and had a traditional Hindu wedding and it was fascinating to me to learn about the traditions of her culture. Her wedding was semi-arranged in that they had been introduced by the parents with the hope that things would work out and it had. To this day they are a very happy couple and have raised two very nice sons. Had I merely tolerated having them live across the road, listening to the whispers of arranged marriage and strange religious holidays, I would have missed out on learning some interesting cultural information, seeing her beautiful wedding dress and becoming friends with some wonderful people. And she would have missed out on learning how I grew up and what I believed.
Because of her I have always had the dream of moving to India and living there as a citizen for a year simply to learn and experience life as it's lived by a billion people on our earth. To be as brave as she was when she moved here with her new husband to a country that was as foreign to her as India is to me.
Recently we drove through my old neighbourhood in the city I used to live in and realised that the only thing I miss about the city is its diversity. The opportunity to learn from other cultures, to attend the festivals held in the park by different ethnic peoples. There is a lot to be learned even by being a part of those kinds of events. I lament that my children don't get to meet people of other countries, children from other places so that it can become normal to them to see faces of many shades at a birthday party they hold as my older children did when we lived in our old city. I hope that in spite of this lack, they grow up with the ability to embrace differences instead of merely being tolerant of them. That they see race as something irrelevant and the human race as something magnificent, diverse and fascinating and immerse themselves in the brilliant difference humanity contains.
So tolerance, yes, we must have it to coexist of course, but the ideal, the goal should be beyond tolerance, into excitement, non-judgement and love for all that is different and unlearned in this world. To hold bewilderment and joy at the gift of diversity. And the great cosmic joke is, in embracing the diversity it is usually discovered that we are actually more alike than we are different anyway!
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