Respect Over Tolerance

For those of you who may not have noticed, the current state of the world is apt to make even the stanch optimist keenly depressed.  With seemingly continuous war, inflated xenophobia, a deflating economy, and a troubling lack of communication both at the personal level and at large being just a paucity of the issues we face at the tip of the cynical iceberg, it’s hard to imagine a future in which the remaining few of the species is not picking up the pieces from a global nuclear conflict (if any pieces even remain).  A disturbing lack of prescience for our collective fate is certainly part of the cause.  It seems the majority of citizens, for example, are unaware of the pressing need to invest in the development of alternative energy sources, as the reserves of fossil fuels are projected to be depleted as early as 2050.  I’ll be sixty-two.

I am not a political scientist.  Therefore, I will leave you with those thoughts and quickly revert back to my original purpose, which is to say: we are not doomed.  Yes, I offered you a few spoonfuls of pessimism, but I am a realist at heart.  The major problem our society faces in the wake of these troubles is not intolerance; rather, it is a lack of respect.  Now, I have always been an advocate of tolerance–of other races, religions, sexual orientations, etc.  However, just prior to hopping on the computer to share my two cents, I began reading (yes, began–I was so moved to spread the word that I did not even finish) an article in the November 2012 issue of The Sun (I’m a bit behind in my reading), entitled “If Only We Would Listen.”  Writer Alicia von Stamwitz interviews author and activist Parker J. Palmer regarding, amongst other things, his motivations for writing his latest book, Healing the Heart of Democracy.  This is the quote from Palmer that struck me:

I’m committed to educational goals more ambitious than getting kids to pass tests, and to political goals a lot bigger than getting people to “tolerate” each other.  Teaching a kid to pass a test is a piece of cake compared to educating a child.  And tolerating people is a long way from understanding how  profoundly interdependent we are…[T]he civility we need in politics will not come from watching our tongues but from valuing our differences.  Somehow my heart doesn’t beat faster when someone says they’re willing to “tolerate” me!

As a self-proclaimed academic, I have much to say about children’s education, but I’ll leave that one alone for another day.

Palmer, of course, makes the point better than I could reiterate, but I will reiterate: our culture stresses so much the need for tolerance–not love, appreciation, or respect.  Tolerance should be the minimal quality that humans adhere to.  We should be able to tolerate the presence of other people on this shared planet who are intrinsically different from us as a given, seeing as we are all facing the same existential reality.  But what we should strive for is not tolerance, but genuine respect.

Because the main focus as we are growing up and learning the rules of the world when it comes to say, race, is racism, our schemas develop to believe it is prejudicial to point out differences in skin color or cultural ethnicity.  We develop this nagging little guilt when in the presence of others who look or were reared differently from us.  To avoid sounding offensive, dialogue closes.  When dialogue closes, we negate the possibility of becoming educated, and so fall back on the stereotypes we were taught as children, therefore perpetuating, rather than surmounting, racism.

I live and work in a city that is historically an immigrant city–beginning with the Irish, French, Polish, and Italians of the early twentieth century, and most recently home to an influx of various Hispanic cultures.  (As an aside, I say Hispanic, but if there is a more preferred term, please correct me.  The stipulations of what is “politically” right and wrong are so nebulous, and I’ve found that what white Americans believe to be the “preferred” term is actually often in opposition to what the members of the race/culture/ethnicity use in reference to themselves.  For example, I once had a “Native American” professor who believed “Native American” was the prejudicial cop-out, and indeed preferred “American Indian.”)  Many of my friends and coworkers are of Hispanic/Latino/Spanish/whatever descent.  Those I work closely with feel comfortable joking with me (and I with them) about our ethnic discrepancies, which opens up a conversation for more serious discussion as well.  When I ask about why they or their families do/say/eat/wear certain things, I am not being rude or ignorant.  I am sincerely curious, and feel all the more educated from posing such inquiries, rather than pretending those discrepancies do not exist.

I find joy in the colorful pastiche of cultures that exist throughout the world, and only wish there was not this underlying fear of sounding racist for expressing interest and wanting to learn about others.  It is this fear of such an abstract concept that proliferates xenophobia and the misunderstandings that so often perpetuate wars and hatred towards other cultures we clearly know nothing about.  Rather than expending energy chastising others for calling someone “black” rather than “African American,” we should spend time celebrating all cultures and educating our children from an early age so that they feel comfortable in continuing a dialectic that will eventually erase feelings of guilt and fear, and free people of all colors and styles to express who they are, who their family is, and where they come from.

New Year

Relatively aware that this year (2013, a numerical that still seems a tenuous appendage to the Timeline I grew up with) has by now existed for 22 days, I found it a reasonable endeavor to begin a blog, and to begin that blog with my “resolutions” for this year.  (I put resolutions in quotes, because I know like most humans I probably will retain these as delectable sentiments, but may indeed, alas, succumb to routine in the end.)  But like the sway of my twice-yearly trip to the dentist, when I feel damned gung-ho about flossing, I will use the arbitrary passage through calendar days as a means of self-motivation.  Plus, I went easy on myself and made all of my goals pretty achievable.

Here, readers, I present you with my intimate list of self-betterment.  May you find some personal inspiration in this list, and may the determination to publish these words keep my actions in the following months uncomfortably conscious:

Julie’s New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Establish a balance between the creative and the consumptive. (More on this later.)
  2. Write routinely (even if the result is unsatisfactory or negligible).
  3. Exercise more, snack less.
  4. Develop a positive self-image.
  5. Be friendlier; renew communication with meaningful relations.
  6. Go outside more.
  7. Draw.
  8. Be more present in the world.
  9. Give away/sell extraneous possessions.

I had remembered incorrectly that there were ten items on this list, but now recall not having a tenth idea at the time this was written, and not willing to sacrifice authenticity for the sake of round numbers–a strange obsession many of us seem to possess (the rule of threes, anyone?), and which I have been attempting to subvert in my writing.

So, how am I doing, you ask?

Here’s the breakdown so far:

1. Establish a balance between the creative and the consumptive.

My initial plan was to begin this blog with a discourse on the importance of balance, but then felt it would be beneficial to refer to my goals for this year, and upon realizing the amount of digression I would need to include in that first entry, felt it would be simpler to itemize these aspirations first.  Keep a lookout for this entry, as I plan to make it far more interesting than this one.

2. Write routinely (even if the result is unsatisfactory or negligible).

Well, I suppose one can say that by starting this blog, I’ve already accomplished that unequivocally, even down to the unsatisfactory and negligible subcategories.

Joking aside, I resolved to begin a blog because I was finding it difficult to write about things and felt it might be easier to write about thinks.  The goal here is to write, and write I shall.

3. Exercise more, snack less.

We’ll come back to this one in a few months.

4. Develop a positive self-image.

I’ve already cut out the verbal self-deprecating remarks by at least 50%.  But the ceasing of the nonverbal and darkly borderline psychoses will likely be concurrent with resolution #3.

5. Be friendlier; renew communication with meaningful relations.

The placement of these two seemingly related objectives within the same resolution now seems a tad ill-advised.  I have already made a conscious (and successful!) effort to emerge from my dusky hermitage and involve myself socially with dear friends and family.

However, (and this is perhaps due to overstaying my welcome in the spiritually unsatisfactory and vertically immobile role of part-time customer service representative) I feel that I have become hardened like a salty old sea dog.  Nor did my year-long stint as a substitute teacher bequeath upon me the sunny disposition towards others that I strive for.  My amiability dwindled the more worldly wise I became, the more aware I grew of the crumminess of people.  With that experience, though, I came to know also the beauty of others, and how engaging meaningfully (and positively) with strangers can spread the types of energy waves that we all wish were more abundant in this world.  It is that dogma I resolve to keep in mind as the year flows on.

(And it surely didn’t help that I started this year on my period.)

6. Go outside more.

This seems simple, but it is not.  Especially in New England when half the year is winter.  So, it goes without saying that I have not made progress on this one.  But it’s so darn important, I might just post it on my wall.  Maybe my tenth resolution will be to put up a bulletin board.

7. Draw.

I did this!  I did this!

#7? Check.

But, you know, I hope to do more, better, and um, finished drawings.

8. Be more present in the world.

I feel like I’m breaking the rules by starting a cyber version of my cave to curl up in, but being PRESENT in the PRESENT is what I’m really getting at.  Doing things, and spending less time…not doing things.  Making eye contact.  Touching trees and rocks and things.  Related, in a way, to resolution Nos. 5 & 6.

9. Give away/sell extraneous possessions.

I started this yesterday, when I realized I needed more room on my bookshelves for my books, and less for Build-a-Bears that old friends and flames made me a decade ago.  Also, I used to save all my old toys believing one day I might have children that I would so graciously bestow these treasures upon, but I have become of a new mind in two ways: 1.) I no longer believe it is a viable destiny of mine to bear children. (Stretch marks? No, thanks.) 2.) If my biological clock suddenly starts ticking away towards doomsday, and I DO eventually want and/or need kids, I’ve realized all the little bastards will want is the newest digital-virtual eye sensor chips that can project simulations of Legos and Playmobils unto the world.

The most important piece of this resolution, though, is to simplify.  I have so much stuff and very little space, and I’ve been finding, in the words of Virginia Woolf, that I do indeed need a room of my own in order to write.

Oh, and money.  Always money.