The Two-Way Street of Tolerance

The world is ending, you’re all bored out of your minds, so let’s get INSANELY and UNCOMFORTABLY PERSONAL! And let’s talk about that terrible T word: TOLERANCE!

SHORT VERSION

I’ve been on a journey from an absolutely nutballs version of right-wing fundamentalism, through atheism and suicidal nihilism, into a more kind, vaguely holistically spiritual place. 

  • When I want to be inclusive of religious beliefs (or lack thereof), I need to remember to extend this courtesy to my religious friends.* 
  • When I want to be gender-inclusive, I have to remember that this includes my friends who choose traditional performative roles.* 
  • When I want to be accepting of alternative lifestyles, I have to remember to include my friends who choose to try more traditional ones, such as monogamous marriage and career.* 

*OBVIOUS and important caveat: I want to be open to lifestyles and beliefs AS LONG AS they are not harmful to other people. Racism, sexism, and hatred of ANY group is outside the purview of kindness and acceptance.

JUICY VERSION

As a young person, fear and hatred of various minorities was instilled in me, including a lot of homophobic nonsense, and I was taught that most of science is Satanic hokum.

I had to educate myself rather late in life on everything from basic modern cultural norms, climate science, evolutionary science, gay rights, the civil rights movement, the real (not Rush Limbaugh) history of this country, and more. I had to get out of my gross comfort zone and jump in with both feet to immerse myself in countless (to me) terrifying experiences that shook my ignorance and bigotry to the core. 

I beat the odds to get into a state college, where I had my first exposure to love, sex (which was indeed more prolific and better the more toxic the circs), mental health crisis, modern science, mainstream culture, swearing, PC culture (which I examine and critique elsewhere), and all manner of ethnic and sexual diversity (as well as some pretty crippling poverty; uncooked Ramen is not as yummy as it sounds, friends). 

I took jobs at the Jewish Community Center, I staffed at an HBCU, I drove taxi for thousands of people from all walks of life, I worked in warehouses and managed at a mall and did all manner of crazy and sometimes stupid things as I started to learn more about the real world and about my crippling preconceptions and prejudices.

It broke me – in a good way.

I had breakdowns, I weathered suicidal periods, I experienced abusive relationships and lots of bizarre hookups, I lost people, I learned how to actually BE ALONE, and I slowly gained a solid tribe of loving adopted family as I learned to dig down to my very core. I talked people off ledges while barely clinging to my own, I fed and talked to homeless people while living in my car (and changing parking lots to dodge repo men), I made dear Kurdish friends and learned about a whole horrible realm of American empire… 

And more… 

That’s a long-winded way of saying that I’m not some namby pamby, fake Social Justice Warrior, someone born into Left(ish) views and blindly peddling vague progressive memes, or someone who claims views that I never had to examine.

I have fought hard for who I am now and who I am becoming. My knowledge and convictions are extremely hard-won, and I lost just about nearly everything I used to hold dear along the way.

I don’t ever want to go through that again, but I’m glad for each teaching experience and accidental guru along the way, even the scary ones. Also, I’m nowhere near my “final form,” but I’m closer than when I started, and when I occasionally speak on some of these issues, I’m not blowing ignorant steam. 

So that leads me to an issue that has generated a lot of heat, especially during the global stress of Corona. TOLERANCE. And while I do believe that the more sinister elements of the right wing is globally threatening, well, just about everything, I know a hell of a lot of good people who happen to hold some traditional beliefs while valuing human rights and diversity and all the basic good stuff; they are caught between a rock and a hard place, and they are trying desperately to maintain their faith and values while loving others and fighting bigotry and stupidity in their communities.

For their sake, I want to target some of my own blind spots and hypocrisies that I’m slowly becoming aware of, and which I suspect have probably contributed to the polarization of our culture due to their popularity in my progressive tribe. 

  • When I want to be inclusive of religious beliefs (or lack thereof), I need to remember to extend this courtesy to my religious friends.
  • When I want to be gender-inclusive, I have to remember that this includes my friends who choose traditional performative roles.
  • When I want to be accepting of alternative lifestyles, I have to remember to include my friends who choose to try more traditional ones, such as monogamous marriage and career.* 

It’s very hard to maintain consistency across the board, but I think it’s vital if we’re going to start having important conversations as a culture. And I sometimes fear that people from the more “radically” progressive tribe (like myself) occasionally shut down that kind of growth when we are not careful with our words and open to conversations with people who are more traditional than we are. 

The hard part for me is knowing when to draw the line and burn bridges.

Sometimes people I know reveal they have terrifying and dangerous secret beliefs, which they make clear they are unwilling to question or relinquish. I’ve cut people off over conspiracy theories about Jewish people and Muslims, I’ve had to cut people off related to issues of Holocaust denial (go visit a Jewish Community Center and talk to a survivor, I dare you, and keep spouting that nonsense!), and in the Coronavirus I’ve had to cut people off for spreading the kind of propaganda that is getting people killed (claiming that it’s all a Chinese hoax, it’s 5G and you shouldn’t wear masks, etc.) 

I want to grow into someone who is smart and kind and strong.

I cannot do that if I hang out with people who have opposite values. And sometimes, when it’s not a matter of actual hate speech or inciting violence, I just don’t want to be around hatred, or willful ignorance, or willful stupidity of any kind; it just makes me miserable and uncomfortable. I want to grow into a better and happier person, and I want to spend my limited time around other people who want to do the same.

*OBVIOUS and important caveats

I want to be open to lifestyles and beliefs AS LONG AS they are not harmful to other people. Racism, sexism, and hatred of ANY group is outside the purview of kindness and acceptance. 

FOR EXAMPLE, if you make the (to me) rather odd decision to be in a traditional heterosexual monotheistic household, that’s TOTALLY your call, AS LONG AS you do not fall into traditional patriarchal patterns of abuse (whether verbal, physical, or sexual). 

Similarly, if you choose to go to church (or mosque, or temple), that’s fine; but you can’t be preaching any kind of hate under the fake umbrella of “it’s my right to believe and say anything I want, including that which is harmful to other people.” 

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