Tolerance Isn't Enough
Nothing shook me quite like the sight of the New Zealand flag on the cover of the New York Times in the wake of our nation’s darkest day. Since moving to America, I’ve come across people who didn’t know where New Zealand was or that it even existed. It’s hard to believe that this horrific mass shooting in Christchurch is what put our little nation at the bottom of the earth on the world’s stage but I couldn’t be more proud of the way that my heartbroken homeland has responded. New Zealanders not just talking but taking action - people going above and beyond to pay their respects and even changing laws.
Yesterday morning, I was deeply saddened to wake up to the news of more attacks on mosques in the United Kingdom. This just solidified that this horrific, hate-fuelled act of terror was not just a result of New Zealand’s gun policy but was birthed from an attitude of intolerance and discrimination. Although these acts were extreme, the attitudes that created the foundation for such atrocities were already running rampant.
I was lucky enough to grow up under parents who demonstrated a love for all people and a deep appreciation for different cultures and ways of life. When I was a child, we hosted homestay students from different nations, religions, and backgrounds. Nothing broke my parents’ hearts like the day they caught me using racist phrases that I had picked up in the playground but it wasn’t until high school that my eyes were truly opened to how deeply embedded racism was in the suburban Sydney society I lived in. “Eenie, meanie, miney, mo …” had turned into Facebook comments, too vulgar to even include in this blog post. At school, the word “tolerance” was pinned up in our classrooms - the poster boy for dealing with differences. But tolerance never has been (and never will be) enough to stop these hate-fuelled attacks and disputes between different groups of people. Why? Because it is centred on the same “us versus them” mentality.
Tolerance can be defined as “recognizing and respecting other’s beliefs and practices without sharing in them”(Neufeldt). While that may sound like a great idea on the surface - this approach to diversity sees the difference, it doesn’t see the person. Love sees the person before the differences.
I could not more perfectly separate the two concepts than by sharing this quote by US politician, Cory Booker:
Here are some things that we can challenge ourselves to do in the wake of these horrific attacks:
1. CHANGE OUR HEARTS
The first thing we need to do is a heart check and assess what our attitudes are towards certain individuals and groups of people are. We also need to remember that love is more than just a feeling - it’s actions too.
Would you invite someone into your home who supported a different political party? Would you share a meal with someone from another religion? Would you buy a coffee for someone who needs the money far more than you do?
Yes, it’s possible to keep your own beliefs and opinions but to show physical, tangible actions of love to others who don’t share the same worldview as you. From first loving, we can then grow in our understanding of modern discrimination, what it looks like and what we can do about it.
That being said, just because you love someone, you don’t need to tolerate their words or actions. True love is not afraid to offer correction and so many people walk around blind to the fact that their small comments are creating a foundation for far bigger issues. Don’t be afraid to call people out on racist remarks, blasphemous comments, inappropriate jokes or bullying. When you do call someone out though, make sure that it is done out of a place of love - not just the desire to be better, more “morally correct” or just a downright know-it-all.
2. CHANGE OUR LANGUAGE
Our words create our world. If we don’t want to see acts like this happen - we can’t be building a foundation for them with our language. Once you’ve made the conscious decision to love, it is your responsibility to change the way you talk. This means guarding your tongue: getting rid of degrading slang and sayings and not using the language of “them” and “us” - because “they” ARE “us”. This also means not being afraid to ask questions. Sometimes I find it easier to hold back my questions because I don’t want to seem rude, but I’m learning that stereotyping and making generalisations is far more harmful.
3. CHANGE OUR MINDS
My views on certain issues are constantly changing and evolving as I grow in my understanding of different cultures, politics and the concept of new racism. Although all humans are equal, we are not “all the same”. The more I learn, the more I realise that I still have so much to learn.
Growing our understanding of other people and their religions, cultures, backgrounds, and experiences gives us deeper insight into the context in which certain people live in. It requires putting aside our personal prejudices and preconceptions, having an open mind and being willing to listen. It also takes being comfortable with not having all of the answers. It’s impossible to fully understand every side to side to a story or to know everything there is to know - but don’t let that hold you back! The more we make an effort to understand and to unlearn our biases, the more we can push forward as a society. I have no idea what it is like to walk in someone else shoes but it’s my place to listen and to love.
In the end. It all comes down to number 1. We are constantly learning but as long as your heart is in the right place, your language will change and increased understanding will follow.