Intolerant of the belief once categorized as “tolerance”

Where is the line between one being “tolerant” or “intolerant” of another human being? I suggest it is a dangerously fine line indeed. – Stuart Lewis

In beginning this piece and searching for an opening – hopefully a thought-provoking quote complementary with my thoughts here, what I found were numerous idioms fawning over the virtue of tolerance from luminaries such as; John Kennedy, Helen Keller, The Dalai Lama and Mahatma Gandhi to name but a few. None I found were on the mark of where I was heading so as you can see, I came up with my own. That could very well mean I am again an enigma unto myself or perhaps it is time to rethink this model of comportment we label as “tolerance”.

Like many fellow members of the Jewish faith, I was last week sitting in synagogue observing Rosh Hashanah hoping to be inspired or just passing the time with tribal compatriots. The featured speaker of the day was a prominent Canadian parliamentarian. It should not be surprising that a Canadian parliamentarian is not likely to be the source of a spiritual uplift – in particular during a religious service but I was intrigued to listen to the “wisdom” of such a dignitary. I quickly became uninspired and thoroughly displeased with the message and messenger – as did numerous others.

I think I heard the word “tolerance” uttered half a dozen times by this presenter when speaking of immigrants and new Canadians. Each time the tone of the utterance became increasingly disapproving of the generalized differences they represented and grudgingly tolerant of the welcome to Canada they received from this parliamentarian. In my opinion it was a distasteful series of statements from such a representative. But this of course is not an isolated circumstance whether here in Canada, the USA or Europe but we are observing a torrent of rising populism across these lands.

A few days later I was fortunate to be invited by a friend to attend a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival (tiff) of “The Hate U Give”. This provocative and gut-wrenching film depicts the precarious social structure of a fictitious African-American city neighbourhood existing under the double-edged fear of actualized police brutality and the code of silence exacted by a local drug lord.

Further, in the case of this film as a Caucasian man, I feel culpable how we objectify the condition in these neighbourhoods as either blaming the local populace for staying there or for somehow perpetuating the circumstance under which they live. “Well we don’t live there, not our problem” is the common refrain from many Caucasians. By reinforcing the archaic concept of tolerance, the definition of community is persistently being narrowed and diminished as we proclaim our tolerance (or intolerance) of others not like us. We don’t see them even when in our midst.

We have witnessed opponents of #blacklivesmatter demand that #whitelivesmatter too without even attempting to understand the deeper meaning of the #blacklivesmatter movement or #takingaknee for that matter. Is this tolerance?

I recently spent time watching our “contact” with the homeless in the downtown core of Toronto. We have become so tolerant of the homeless on our city streets that today we figuratively walk right over them. It is not that we should necessarily give money to every or any homeless person we see – it is up to us individually to make that decision for any donation of charity, but to walk by and not even look upon their face, to withhold a response and turn away when asked for money or when they wish us “good day”, to not see their pain, their loneliness or their despair and to not even acknowledge their existence as human beings was chilling to observe. That is when we have lost compassion and empathy.

This is how is I see tolerance in our society today. How is being tolerant not a destructive force in our communities? We need to go beyond what we once thought tolerance to be. That too is something we all must figure out for ourselves.

Life is shorter

Life is too short, or too long, for me to allow myself the luxury of living it so badly.

Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist

While I agree with the esteemed author Paulo Coelho of life being either too short or too long, this half-statement of his is a mere generality. I prefer to look at the world, my world, not through generalities but with objective reflections. At my age, the life to come is empirically now shorter, I can’t say that it will definitively conclude by being “too short” or “too long” it will simply be shorter than the past life I have thus far lived. And like some of you depending on your age, being circumspect about what lies ahead, I am drawn to another contemplation, this one by the highly respected commentator on life’s meaning and purpose – Viktor Frankl.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

– Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

This past weekend, a long holiday weekend in many parts, was a remarkably emotional and soulful time for me. It was a more intense “time-off” than is my norm; perchance I was endeavouring to pack as much into these days as is humanly possible. I am not sure if it was subconsciously a result of my first bicycle accident the weekend prior after seven years of adopting this activity as my primary warm weather vocation. It was however just a T-bone crash with another cyclist and I’m delighted to report both riders – save for a few bruises were relatively unscathed. It was our bicycles however that took the brunt of the damage.

I spent the weekend connecting to events and people that were immensely meaningful to me. From special friends and family to a bridge and just my own private thoughts, I was deeply engaged in trying to define my purpose and figure it all out with the short or long life I have remaining.

Making soulful and personal connections in whatever manner they are can be spellbinding and were. Who would have thought that a bridge could ensnare me in such a manner causing me to be lost in multiple simultaneous sensory vibrations? A bridge is just a thing of course, but behind the “thing” are people and memories.

Family is also a treasure that we try to hold on to or in many cases (mine) reclaim as our lives become shorter. I know however that family reunification is not legitimately possible or desirable for everyone – but I hope you might give it some extra consideration while you still can. I spent a lot of time with my precious family too this weekend and I have to highlight the time spent with my 82, she’ll say almost 83 year-old mother. She’s been saying that just a few months after her 82nd!   I did something special with her and she was overwhelmed by it. My first reaction was one of shame and guilt for not doing more of it. But my attitude quickly changed. I can choose my attitude as Viktor Frankl wrote and I look forward to my next special outing with my dear mother.

Connections, real ones are essential now to me in ways dissimilar than ever before. My search for Frankl’s meaning is taking centre stage as I contemplate that next milestone. It’s not about being frivolous or not with the time that we have. For me it’s about being in the moment and thinking and feeling and not just doing whatever you want with no meaning or purpose. For the record, “playing” is purposeful if that is what one desires in that moment.

As I travel along, I can’t help but see our greatest potential for positive change lay in modifying our own attitude concerning how we see and react to the stimuli swirling around us on a daily basis. Frankl nailed this. Choosing our attitude “is” our greatest freedom. One who is rich or poor, healthy or ill can acquire such freedom. It is not subject to supply and demand economics for it is in limitless supply.

Whether or not life is shorter for us individually is inconsequential for who truly knows anyway? It is however never too soon to check-in with ourselves and taste true freedom.