Things I Want My Son To Know #13 ~ Practice Tolerance

We live in a world of amazing diversity. Around the globe there are people of a vast array of ethnicities and faiths, just for starters. Our own country is a land of immigrants and races from around the world. This country was founded by immigrants fleeing religious intolerance and persecution. Your ancestors were immigrants here, fleeing religious persecution. Others of your ancestors were indigenous people of the Americas, Native Americans, who suffered terrible persecution and near extinction as the result of ignorance, hatred and intolerance.

Diversity makes our world a fascinating and complex place. Respect the diversity around you, in our country and around the globe. Learn to live with diversity and to learn from it. Other cultures have something to teach, other religions have a point of view that deserves respect.

Unfortunately we also live in a country that seems to be determined to showcase its ignorance and intolerance often and broadly. Watching the pastor intent on burning the Quran, many copies, sickened me. He truly believed that burning the Quran would somehow memorialize and sanctify the memory of those that perished on September 11, 2001. What insanity. The destruction of a holy object will never sanctify anyone’s memory. Millions of peace loving muslims did not terrorize the United States. All he did was show himself to be ignorant. But he is not alone in his beliefs, unfortunately.

It is important to practice tolerance actively, as a counterbalance to those who are mindlessly intolerant. Practicing tolerance doesn’t just mean being passively tolerant in your behavior. It means that you speak against intolerance when you see it, when you hear it. That you embrace the beliefs of others, not by believing as they do, but by respecting their right to believe as they do and to practice their beliefs in a peaceful way without persecution. As a Jew you know that we were nearly obliterated by the passivity of those who watched the holocaust unfold and did nothing to stop it, assuming others would act, or that it would just go away. Bigotry, intolerance and prejudice never “just go away”. It requires action, courage and conviction.

We used to say that when we protested we “manned the barricades” because the police would put up wooden barricades to contain where the protest was legally supposed to be. In my youth, we believed that protest matters, that it works. In Europe they still do. On my last trip to France, I saw hundreds of thousands of Parisians take to the streets with their children, parents and pets, to protest the president serving at that time. They do it because they believe that their voices will have an effect.

You should never feel superior to, or better than, someone because they are different than you. There is nothing inherently better or worse about any race, religion, gender or sexual identity. Being born Jewish or Catholic is not a choice, being born with black, brown or white skin is not a choice, being born male or female is not a choice, being born gay is not a choice. People are who they are and valuing them for their character, their principles, valus and actions is what matters. If your mind is closed to the value of difference you might miss a wonderful friend, a great teacher, the love of your life; you never know what barricades active tolerance will take you past and what you will find there.

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What I Want My Son To Know #12 ~ Stand Up And Be Counted

Having principles is a problem; whatever those principles might be. And they always sound good, until they are tested; then they are a problem. Because standing up for them, standing up because of them, doesn’t always make you a popular person. When sometime tells a racial or ethnic joke, or uses hate language “but everyone does it”, it takes courage to say “that’s not funny”. Especially when your friends are all laughing.

But principles are what give your live meaning, and truth, and something to hold on to when you are not sure what gives with the world. Remember that you have friends of color who have experienced discrimination, that you have gay friends who have experienced hatred, that your mother was treated like a servant in my early career becaause women still weren’t expected to be professionals, to be something independent of their husbands ~ a world you can’t imagine.

So something as simple as honesty… telling the cashier there is something under the cart she forgot to charge you for. The habitual practice of honesty will help you when you are really challenged. Something as simple as protecting and caring for those weaker than most; being polite; holding the door for women. Respect the elderly; remembering that they have lived things you can’t imagine and might have something to teach you if you have the patience to listen. This simple practice of respect, for the weak, for women, for the elderly, will bring you relationships you never anticipated and lessons you might be astonished to learn.

Imagine if nobody had stood with the marchers for civil rights; imagine if nobody had stood with women in their fight for property rights and the vote; imagine if nobody had stood for those that Hitler despised. The people that stood up often lost their lives doing so. But they did so because they couldn’t imagine a world in which such terrible injustices continued to exist, and it felt worth their lives to try to prevent these injustices.

I hope you are never tested in that way, I hope your principles never put your life in jeopardy. But I do hope that you have the courage to stand up for what is right in whatever ways challenge you in your life. It is important to stand up and be counted, to look back and say, I lived a life of principle, I did the right things, I did good in the world.

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