I was recently thinking about the word "tolerance" and what it means, because I've been seeing it on signs welcoming refugees.
In school we were taught "tolerance." On top of the Zero Tolerance policies prohibiting drug abuse and violence, and perhaps because I grew up in a very multi-cultural neighbourhood, we were taught "tolerance" of our neighbours, because we all came from different backgrounds. To me, tolerance suggests indifference or putting up with something you may not want to put up with. You tolerate needy clients, because it's your job to. You tolerate traffic, because you have to get wherever it is you're going and there's no way around it. You tolerate your brother's annoying gaming habits, because he's your brother. And sure, to some extent you tolerate your neighbour's quirks and differences, because you have to see them.
What we need to be learning is acceptance--to accept our differences, because only then can we embrace those differences and realize we're not really so different after all. Well then, some might say that tolerance is the same thing as acceptance, but I think that acceptance takes tolerance one step further, and I think that tolerance can exist without acceptance. So really, we need both.
Also in school, we always had multi-cultural week, and it's something I feel truly grateful for. Once a year, we'd have various events where people would bring a little something from their homes to school, so that we could all get a taste of India, Argentina, Japan, or from wherever in the world your family originated. Looking back at this, I realize the bigger picture value of these "Multi-Cultural Weeks." Looking back, I see that all along, while my schools were providing us the opportunity to learn a little bit about each culture and learning about the "differences" in cultures, what we were also shown was how similar we all are. Whatever corner of the world we come from, we love to dance, and we love good food. Whatever corner of the world we come from, women love to feel beautiful and cherished and sexy. Whatever corner of the world we come from, the basic human right to education is something we all greatly value. What our dances look like, how our foods taste, and what beauty means to us may all vary, but there's a common denominator there that links us all.
Growing up in the multi-cultural environment that I did, I think that acceptance became innate in many of us, because we didn't have to think about embracing other cultures, we just did. There was nothing out of the ordinary for me to be learning how to salsa, belly dance, or even Irish dance. At least it wasn't for me. My mom would make us simple cheese quesadillas or even heated tortillas with butter on them as snacks, and we're not Hispanic at all. All my friends know how to use chopsticks, whether they're Asian or not. When I went to university and saw a Muslim girl stop everything she was doing every day at a particular hour, to go to a separate room and pray, instead of being shocked by it, I thought how great it was that we could live in a place where we can all practice our different religions as we chose to, and then come back together to study, to share laughs, to share a drink. This isn't the case everywhere you go in the world though.
It's 2015. How is there still so much hate and fear in the world? Whether it's IS in Syria, or Donald Trump on his tirade against immigrants, I will never understand how one person can hate another person he has never known, and cares not to know or understand. It's like in a healthy relationship, you realize that it's not necessarily about agreeing with your partner, but simply understanding where the other is coming from in order to resolve your issues.
It seems to me that teaching tolerance is more effective when teaching what not to tolerate. I will not tolerate ethnic discrimination. I will not tolerate gender discrimination. I will not tolerate gummy bears in my ice cream.
It seems to me that tolerance highlights our differences, and makes those differences stand out. Acceptance brings us together and blends those differences into a beautiful and colourful impressionist painting.
BIG LOVE & HUGS