I would like to say I am not qualified in any way as a person to give another advice, but I just have my observations to go on. My feelings. My experiences.
One of the things I like to do in the quiet moments of my life – which usually occur in the shower, or as I’m trying to go to sleep – is to place myself in another person’s shoes. I often meet people whose ideas vary wildly from mine, and I try to work out why that it is.
A combination of them all?
I’ve been thinking today about the word tolerance. I use this word to describe a person’s ability to accept that someone is different from them, and move on. The ability to understand that not all people are the same as them. The ability to love, like and get along with those who are different from them.
As a writer of m/m romance, I come up against this a lot. Homosexuality is one trigger point for intolerance in society. There are many people who simply accept that homosexuality exists, even though they have never experienced it. They are completely straight and have never personally felt a homosexual desire, but they accept that others may. They tolerate the thought, are not threatened by the idea, and they don’t really see what all the fuss is about. This is me.
Others are less tolerant: “It’s fine (to be gay) as long as I don’t have to see, hear or think about it. If you make me face it, I will be extremely uncomfortable and probably say something stupid and hurtful.”
Then you have the nutjobs who insist that it is an abomination and need to be stamped out.
Even in the world of homosexuality, you have the intolerance of other sexualities other than “gay” or “straight.” How many times have I heard of gay men insisting that there is no such this as “bisexuality”? I shake my head and wonder how they can make this claim. How do they know of another person’s attraction without being that person? I find this point of view rather narrow, and very condescending.
I recently met someone who identifies as pansexual. I admit it, I had to look it up, because I didn’t understand what she was meaning, but it doesn’t bother me one iota. I was a little shaken by the fact that this person needed to bring it up in our first conversation, but then some other person (more intelligent than I) pointed out that perhaps it’s easier to be upfront about these things from the get-go. If someone is going to reject you for your sexuality, it’s better to find out immediately, rather than after forging a friendship with them. In further conversations with my new friend, she spoke about being rejected by others in the LGBT society, because they didn’t believe that someone could be pansexual. I find this extremely sad.
But it is not only about sexualities that you encounter intolerance. Religion is another that I see on a daily basis on Facebook. You have those who wish to force their religion on you (who didn’t think of Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons then?). But on the flipside of this, you have those who wish to ridicule you for your religion. There is an intolerance that is rampant in accepting that someone may have a different faith to you. In my immediate social circle in Real Life, my closest friends are a Roman Catholic, an Anglican, an atheist and a Buddhist. It doesn’t bother me. I really wish it would stop bothering others.
[For the record, it is my understanding that JW’s and Mormons need to at least try to “convert” you as part of their religion. Be polite. Smile, say thank you for the consideration (as they’re really trying to save your soul), and take their handout. If you put it immediately in the bin, you’ve hurt no one.]
Last Sunday I was having a conversation with a friend who I find extremely hard to understand at times. She is extremely tolerant of many people who are different to her. Race, religion, disability, personality and background are things she barely flickers her eyelid at. But she nearly had a heart attack when I attempted to dry my hands on a tea towel after washing a few dishes.
“You can’t dry your hands on that towel!”
I froze. “Why not?”
“That’s the towel you’re about to dry the dishes with.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “I washed the cups with my bare hands. My hands are wet because I had them in the water to wash the cups. Now I need to dry the cups. So I need to dry my hands. Those same hands that washed the cup in the same water that they are wet from.”
But no. She insisted on her way. It seemed petty to me, and still does. But then again, this is the woman who got upset with me because I didn’t have decaf coffee in my house. I consider decaf one of the great abominations of the world. But she insisted with such vehemence, such horror that I didn’t have decaf for her when she came to visit, that I ended up spending $8 on a jar of the stuff. It’s still unopened in my cupboard even though I purchased it in June. I just (try to) shrug and accept that this is her.
Intolerance can be life threatening or petty.
So what makes some people tolerant, and some people not?
I consider myself extremely tolerant of things that people can’t change – their sexuality, their race, their disability – but I’m also a downright bitch of intolerance when it comes to things I consider people can change. My in-laws, for example, are constantly late. This is rude to me – just plain, old-fashioned rudeness. I don’t believe I should have to “put up with it” and I’m constantly griping and trying to change them. I’m the queen bee of intolerance when it is just laziness or selfishness.
But where does this tolerance and intolerance in my life come from? Why am I so tolerant of homosexuality, gender, religion, race and background (some of society’s major trigger points) while others are still debating whether women should be allowed to vote?
Is it my personality? Is it my upbringing?
Well, I can scratch the last, that’s for sure. My parents have always been extremely critical and intolerant of minority groups. Racist comments were the norm, and I was raised to believe that most men were paedophiles who would do atrocious things to me should I leave my mother’s side. I was brought up to fear anyone who was different, and to not trust a single soul who I wasn’t related to. Although, I can only ever remember one homosexual comment from my parents, it was made clear that if you turned out to be “one of those” you were to be pitied and were on par with extreme intellectual disabilities – someone they hoped they never had to have as a grandchild.
So why did I not simply turn out like them? I was raised by them. I was subjected to years of their brainwashing. It’s obviously in my genes and in my home environment. Why don’t I call people names like my dad did? Why don’t I think that being gay is one of the worst afflictions a person can have?
I believe it is because of a simple trick my parents unconsciously taught me, a piece of parenting they did right. Question everything.
It started at a very young age. And all my brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces were raised in a similar manner.
My family are legendary at it. My son will come inside while I’m cooking dinner and say to me, “Where’s Daddy?”
With a straight face I will answer, “He decided that he hates spaghetti, so he’s gone to a restaurant for dinner.”
I will see my son’s eyes narrow as he assesses the situation. Does Daddy actually hate spaghetti? Would Daddy just get in the car and drive away? If Daddy is not driving to a restaurant, where would he be?
Finally he will answer, “No, he’s not. He just came home from work and he likes spaghetti.”
I will then say, “So, if Daddy has just arrived home from work, where do you think he will be?”
“In the bedroom, getting changed.”
“Great thought. Why don’t you go and look there?”
It’s simply how I was brought up. The bluff (which is really just a big lie) to make them stop and think. It was done to me. I do it to my kids. But I’ve become aware that not everyone bluffs their children like this. Am I weird?
My daughter’s Kindy teacher is amazed at how my daughter will think through complex situations, instead of just accepting the word of an adult. Apparently not all kids do.
So what does this have to do with tolerance?
It’s teaching our children the process of taking in the information around you and coming to your own decision. Question everything. Think for yourself. Decide for yourself where your beliefs are going to stand.
I’ve decided where I stand. I’ve reached a mature and well-thought out decision on where I believe the line is drawn. I’ve made a decision on my faith and how much matters like gay people getting married affect me. Then I rationally decide how much control people have over these things. Those issues that people cannot control – race, gender, sexual orientation? Well then I make a conscious choice to openly accept that people come in all shapes and sizes. Black, pink or rainbow. We’re all just born that way.
So next time you’re about to jump up and down about an issue, stop and think. Does it matter to me that this person goes to church every week? Does it impact on my life? Nope. Then fine, they’re allowed to have a different belief than mine. Does it matter to me that this person has black skin, when I have an odd pinky-yellow colour? Nope. Does it matter to me that this person says they’re transsexual? Does it matter to me that this person works for the Liberal party? Does it matter to me that this person only writes het-romance?
Then let it go.
Does it matter that this person sexually preys on children? If you (correctly!) answered: “Yes, I’ve thought this through logically, I’ve looked at the facts and I’ve decided that it is not acceptable that this happened.” Now you have permission to jump on your soapbox and be intolerant.
So my sermon today is about introspection. Think about an issue that you have with someone. Perhaps someone just cut you off in traffic and you are fuming. Stop. Think. Perhaps that man just received a phone call from the hospital to say his son has been hit by a bus and he’s racing to get there before his son dies. Did it really matter to you? So you had to hit the brake pedal. How tragic. Move along people.
So you’ve just read a story where the person cheated and you hate cheaters? You don’t believe that the character should be forgiven and taken back? It’s a story. It also happens in real life. Move along people.
Before you go and write that nasty Facebook post, or leave a bad review, or snub that person in the car park, STOP. Think about where it is coming from and try to figure out if it is you or them. Are you having a bad day? Are you simply upset because the character who has the same name as you turned out to be the bad guy? Is it really that person’s fault that their skin is brown and they can’t afford pants that fit?
Tolerance. Understanding. Acceptance. Non-judgement.
Now, I need to go and practice my patience, and tell myself that my in-laws really are nice people. That being constantly late to any appointment is not a three-part tragedy. That I can convincingly lie and tell them that the party starts at 1pm, so that they arrive in time for 2pm.