Holy Stupidity Batman! Tolerance is Just a Nine-Letter Word?!

Photo by EmbraceOurDifferences.org


When I sat down to pen this post, I found myself torn between a two topics. I would either write about my teens’ latest driving escapades involving an empty parking lot, a camera, fairies and a soup nazi (don’t ask); or I’d talk about my “no media for 40 days” where things like wine withdrawal, bliss in not knowing and the importance of “to thine own self be true” took center stage. Riveting topics, I know.

Just when I was sure I came to a decision, I stumbled across this gem of an article titled New York City Schools Want to Ban Loaded Words from Tests. Harmless right? Not quite. Apparently, loaded words include: dinosaur, halloween, Christmas, birthdays, divorce, and television. The reason? So as not to evoke “unpleasant emotions in the students.”

Seriously? In the students? Don’t you mean not to evoke unpleasant emotions in the small population of people who seemingly tend to forget the global community is not confined–or defined–by their personal preferences? Don’t you mean the proposed banning is to assuage the growing sentiments of intolerance and prejudice?

We live in a world of diversity and beauty. Every day we take our places in this global collective we call society and live out the traditions and cultural identities that make us unique and yet so similar. We love our children. We love others. We take pride in our work. We each have unique journeys that have shaped how we live and why. When did tolerance become such a dirty, undesirable thing? When did it morph from being the language we spoke into the vanishing nine-letter word it is today?

Growing up, my neighbors included: Nelson, the Jewish boy who always made me laugh because he’d say the most outlandish things; Tariq, the Pakistani corner store owner who came to NYC for a better life–he always gave me free Now & Laters; Tito, whose father was from Cuba and loved to work on cars; Helga a proud Boriqua; and let’s not forget the very nosy West Indian neighbor who just could never mind his own business! My neighborhood was diverse. The people I talked to were diverse. And as a child I was better for it–as an adult, I thank God for it.

Tolerance is not about “putting up with” diversity. It’s about engaging another person–not to judge, condemn or ridicule–but to understand, learn and respect them for who they are and what they believe especially when it conflicts with your own ideals.

When I was in school, one of my classmates would never recite the Pledge of Allegiance, celebrate birthdays or any holidays. At first, we just thought she was being a rebel
(which instantly made her cool). But after talking with her, we learned she was a Jehovah’s Witness. While her cool factor took a blow, we respected her faith. We asked. She explained. We understood. And it was okay.

Tolerance is about discussion. If we start banning words from tests, banning traditions from schools, banning celebrations and cultural or religious dress, we are preempting the process of discovery, exchange and acceptance. You don’t have to agree with someone to respect their right to live as they see fit. My Dad taught me that. I teach my children that.

Having been on the receiving end of intolerance and cruelty, because of various faiths I practiced, this idea of  “banning it all to prevent offending someone” is at best a slippery slope that spirals into a cesspool of worse things to come. I’m offended by your crucifix, ban it. I’m offended by the henna on your hands, ban it. I’m offended by your nose ring, ban it. I’m offended by your hair, ban it. I’m offended that you have a “bestie” and I don’t, ban it.  This is where we’re headed. Is this really the kind of legacy we want to leave behind?

LOVE listens. It does not judge. It does not condemn; and at the end of the day, it does not esteem itself higher than anyone else.

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