Hmmm…maybe I should confess that I belong to the demographic group that is stereotypically characterized as the least tolerant of all: Middle aged, white, upper middle class, probably in the 1%, male, registered republican,Christian. If you didn’t already know that you’re now probably tempted to stop reading. 🙂 Chicken.
For me the notion of tolerance is silly really, dangerously silly. You see most calls for tolerance have somewhere in their roots the notion that we shouldn’t label people. But then as soon as the conversation moves from a mere word to a sentence the labels begin to fly.
- I must be tolerant of Blacks and Hispanics and people of middle eastern or oriental descent.
- I must be tolerant of Muslims and Atheists and anyone who doesn’t espouse Christianity.
- I must be tolerant of homosexuals and bisexuals and extra-marital-sexuals.
- I must be tolerant of the disabled and the disenfranchised and the dissatisfied.
Of course because of my demographic grouping I am readily accused being:
- As regards race, bigoted
- As regards religion, elitist
- As regards sexuality, homophobic
- As regards social justice or global warming or the plight of the poor or affordable medical coverage, ignorant
Labels, labels, labels.
And that is the dangerously silly part. All the things I am expected to be “tolerant of” are labels. So in effect the “tolerant” camp is asking me to not label people and accept them for their label. Which conveniently allows me to completely ignore them as a person and focus on the label!
I’ll tell you straight out I will never be “tolerant” of anyone because of some specific label.
In the same way that it is a shameful thing for me to label someone and thus dismiss them it is equally shameful for me to have to accept anyone because of a label. What’s really comical is how often folks who want to play to tolerance card also, at the same time, want to play the “treat me like everyone else” card.
Yes, I confess, I have made jokes about peoples race, religion, sexual orientation, and even physical handicaps. In EVERY case those were people with whom I had great relationships. There was no hurt intended and none taken. They shot right back and we both laughed.
But if I were to put those words into print I’d be accused of being all those labels listed above.
And that is where tolerance moves from silly to dangerous when people start getting up in arms and offended “on behalf of” someone else. Just a show of hands, who got uncomfortable when I said I joked about someones sexual orientation or physical handicap? You see unless you understand the relational context you have no excuse for being offended “on behalf of” someone else. Relationship trumps label every time.
Focusing on diversity and tolerance is a focus on what makes us different and potentially separates us. Focusing on relationship is a focus on what pulls us together and labels get in the way of relationship.
So don’t ask me to be “tolerant” or to “co-exist” for the sake of all the labels you have on your bumper sticker. Ask me instead to sit down for a beer, some decent music and some intelligent dialogue and I’m there every time.
As an American doing business in Europe I get labeled. As a Christian performing in local community theater I get labeled. How about you?