A Plea for Tolerance and Compassion

As we all adjust to the new year, making resolutions that likely won’t last past February, contemplating (however briefly!) concepts like renewal, beginning, ending and changing, we need to keep in mind a larger picture. A spectre is haunting America, and that spectre goes by many names — intolerance, racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, and sadly I could go on. That spectre isn’t limited to America, of course; I write about America since I know it best and reside there.

This is a plea, an urgent question we all must answer in one way or another. I was raised Baptist, taught that non-evangelical Christians, LGBT individuals, any woman who even considered an abortion, substance abusers, certainly all suicides had booked a one-way ticket on the express train to an eternity of fire and brimstone. I still don’t know what “brimstone” is, and looking it up would ruin the paradoxical satisfaction of being ignorant; that said, It’s implied that it’s nothing good.

This is a plea. A plea for tolerance and compassion, a plea to heed the old proverb about walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins. I don’t want to change anyone’s beliefs or personal identity. I have my own views and am my own self, yet I try as best I can not to foist them on others. It’s imperative in an open society that calm and rational discourse take place regardless of any divergence in opinion among interlocutors. Indeed, the very premise of an open and democratic society is that each viewpoint be judged on its merits and submitted to one’s peers.

And therein lies the rub. How does one determine who one’s peers actually are? “She’s black, so probably mooching off the state with four kids at home and no husband;” “Look at that towelhead over there — probably going to go home and thank Allah while jerking off to the latest ISIS video;” “Fuckin’ wetbacks. Ship ’em all back to Mexico where they can live like the animals they are;” “Faggots getting married; they’ll answer someday.” You get the point.

In America in 2016, being Muslim can get you beaten and discriminated against. In America in 2016, having a vagina means you’ll earn less than your peers with a penis. In America in 2016, if you identify as LGBT, there are still a good number of places you know not to go. In America in 2016, the promise of America in 1716 — that you could be seeking a new start, leaving your native soil to escape persecution or lack of opportunity is under assault. There are calls by prominent politicians — quite a few of whom are trying to be the next president of these United States — to ban individuals who practice a certain faith, who were born on the wrong side of a certain border.

So this is a plea. A plea for tolerance of those different from you, a plea for compassion for the bullied teenager trying to figure out who he is, for the single mother struggling to put food on the table, for the refugee desperate to escape a war-torn country…

We can do better. We can see in the eyes of a neighbor who chooses to wear hijab, a coworker who’s finally summoned the strength to begin transitioning to who she really is, the gentleman mopping the floor at 01:30 who always tips his hat and smiles when he sees you, you, buying liquor at that ungodly hour; we can see in each of their eyes a desire to work harder, reach further. If we can just open our hearts and minds to realize daily that we have so much more in common with our fellow human beings than the accidentals that separate us. To embody tolerance and compassion and stand by the words of Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” — this is the mission on which we have all, willing or otherwise, been sent.

~ by Benji on January 2, 2016.

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