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.