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Word of the Day: Tolerance

Updated on April 20, 2013
Peace Lily
Peace Lily

The Catalyst

It has happened again. The word "tolerance" came to visit today. I am sure it was the result of the overwhelming sadness I have felt since terror stuck at the Boston Marathon. When I saw the photo of 8 year old Martin Richard holding a sign that read "no more hurting people" and heard that he had been killed by the bombs, I cried. That innocent child who only wanted peace for all of us, was taken from us by someone who did not understand "tolerance". And I began to ask - why?

The Process of Understanding

The sun came out this morning and we greeted each other as old friends often do. The sun wrapped me in a warm embrace and promised that this would be a better day. My mind drifted to those in far away places; those whose lifestyles and cultures are so very different from mine but who, like me, would soon be greeting the same sun. There is after all - only one sun.

Lost in the moment, I found myself thinking about the universe, this complex space made up of stars and planets, gases and galaxies yet to be discovered or named. I wondered about you, the one whose religion is different from mine, the one whose culture or ethnicity determines the clothes you wear or the manner in which you groom yourself. Our traditions and ceremonies may be different but when we stand on this earth and look to the sky, we are looking at the same sun, the same moon, and the same bright stars shine on us all. So why and when did it become so difficult for us to respect and tolerate each other? Or maybe, the question is – who? Was it our religious leaders or our governments that made it wrong for us to call God by different names. Was it religion or politics that made it wrong for us to treat each other with respect and instead, influenced us with envy, greed, and hatred? What fools we have been.

Right and Wrong, Religion and Politics

I am content with my life. I have all that I need and I’ve earned it. Sometimes I even have a little more than I need and for that, I am grateful. Although I am not wealthy or brilliant, I am capable of making my own decisions and choices. I do not need someone else to tell me how to feel or what to think. But more importantly, I know the difference between right and wrong and it is wrong for us to hurt each other because we are different. Did your people not teach you that? Is that why it seems so easy for you to bring terror and fear to my people? I want to understand you but I will never pretend that I can tolerate your violence. Here, in my country, tolerance is defined as afair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one's own. I cannot be fair, objective, or permissive when you are hurting others in the name of your religion or politics.

To be honest, as good as my life is there are still things that even I do not like. I do not like paying taxes or having to pay for insurance that I may never actually use. I would prefer not to wear shoes in public and I don’t always feel like being polite. But I have learned that even in my country, where freedom is so precious, there are some things I just must do. There may be things about you that I do not like too but that does not give me the right to inflict pain and suffering on you. It does not give me a license to frighten or kill you. Nothing in my life gives me reason or the right to try and change you. Do they not teach that where you live?

The Price of Intolerance

I feel sorry for you today. Your life must be so much more difficult than mine. You see, I cannot imagine a life in which my inability to tolerate our differences could fill me with so much hatred. I cannot fathom the idea that you must be harmed or killed in the name of my religion or political affiliation. It is incomprehensible to me.

When I read about you in the news, I wondered why you could not see that your beliefs have made you weak. Your intolerance for our differences have sealed your fate. We are a tolerant nation but we cannot and will not tolerate violence against others. Each choice we make in life has consequences. I wonder, is your intolerance of our differences worth the price you will pay? Are you willing to die because my skin and yours are different colors? Will you spend your life in prison because we prayed to a God we call by different names? Will you give up your freedom because you resent mine? Isn’t there a better way?

The Lesson

I suppose I should be grateful. Your hatred and violence are examples of all that I do not want to become. When you claim that your violence is directed by your religion, I wrap myself more tightly in the teachings of my own. When I see the pain you have inflicted on the innocent, I become more compassionate and caring. I become more determined than ever not to be like you. Yes, even tolerance and intolerance can live peacefully together in a civilized world. This is what you have taught me. I can and will tolerate our differences until your intolerance hurts those I love and then, like you, I will become intolerant.

© 2013 Linda Crist, All rights reserved.

“In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher.”

- Dalai Lama XIV


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