Tuesday, October 21, 2014

From Tolerance to Respect

"Side by Side"
- Dawn at the Desert Retreat House -

Standing in the checkout counter at the local supermarket yesterday, I overheard two women before me in the line. They were lamenting the fact that the world nowadays seems to be getting more and more violent and they both agreed that, "What we need is more tolerance." When I heard that, I almost got into a conversation with them but decided a supermarket line probably wasn't the best place to engage in any prolonged dialogue about "tolerance." 

What I wanted to say was that "we don't need more tolerance, we need more respect." and there is a big difference between the two. 

It seems to me that when people see others as different, they often think of themselves as better - a truer religion, a better country, a better culture, a more civilized society.  Different and inferior others are then often demonized, or perhaps you might try to convert them to the right and truer way, and the third option is "tolerance." 

The word "tolerance" essentially means, "to put up with. So when we tolerate those who are different, we "put up with them" - which often means we ignore them, perhaps even avoid them in order to escape inevitable conflict.  "Tolerating" different others is sometimes a "politically correct"  smokescreen making it appear as if we are in relationship when in point of fact, we really aren't.

We lived in Los Angeles for almost ten years before moving out here to the desert. L.A. calls itself the most diverse place on the planet, and so it is.  People from almost every nation, every culture, every race and religion in the world live in that city. But for the most part, each of these different groups live in very specific neighborhoods composed of people who think, look, and believe alike - Koreatown, Thai Town, Little Armenia, Little Guatemala, the Jewish section, the Latino or African American neighborhoods, the gated all-white communities of Beverly Hills.

For the most part people don't openly fight with others n the different neighborhoods, they just basically ignore one another, and coexist within their own camps. They tolerate one another.

This all looks quite pleasant on the surface, all those many widely diverse groups living together and caring for one another in a vast city- but all that "tolerance" is also somewhat of a smokescreen making it appear that relationships exists,  which is often not the case.  

I personally do not value or prize "tolerance" as a virtue, and I certainly don't think we need more tolerance, I think we need more respect. 

I respect others when I recognize that my religion, my country, my culture, my race, my way of life is not better or truer or more exceptional  than those who are different from me---those who are different from me are simply "different." And the more I am able to "respect" the differences, the more I learn that we really aren't all that different after all. 

I have learned so much and my life has been so graced by those different others who I have not tolerated but respected. My own Christian faith has been powerfully enlightened by the wisdom of the Buddha, the poetry of the Islamic Sufi mystics, the deeply spiritual insights of Native American religions. I have even come to a clearer picture of what "God" is all about through "respectful" dialogue with atheists and agnostics.  My life has been wonderfully changed by trips to Asia, dialogue with African immigrants who were part of our church, living in a neighborhood so rich in Latino culture. 

None of this would have been possible if I had just tolerated those who are different from me.

 We don't need more tolerance, we need more respect. 



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