In light of the recent massacre in Tuscon, and the subsequent rhetoric about violent rhetoric and who’s to blame for it—I’d like to share the following essay I wrote a couple months ago on the subject of tolerance. It was written in response to a blog about Christians who showed up to a Gay Pride Parade with signs that said “We’re sorry.”
“That’s the kind of healing gesture that can make a difference. We need more of this courage in all areas of life. The heartfelt apology. The genuine expression of remorse. It’s important to remember, however, that this expression was made necessary because of the original problem: intolerance. And this intolerance exists everywhere. In homophobes and gays, in Israel and Palestine, in Republicans, in Democrats, and sometimes, in my sister and me.
The most dangerous intolerance registers in subtle ways. Dangerous because it’s invisible—because it masquerades as friendliness, emotional support even. In my case, it was a simple rolling of the eyes when someone mentioned their neighbor had gone “Christian.” That tiny human gesture, says, “I am on your side. It’s too bad you have to deal with ‘them’.” This, from a gay woman—a buddhist, gay woman, mind you!—who wants to be accepted for who she is. Does it bring me any closer to enlightenment if I gather with more of my own kind so we can collectively piss on everyone who doesn’t understand us?
There’s another road to take. If I don’t agree with you, but I listen deeply to what you have to say (and this is different altogether from trading witty banter or skillful debate)—might I not learn something new? Something that could enlarge my world view? That might even help me find a common thread between us, and therefore create a new and unlikely friend?
Just last summer, I could have had such a conversation with my sister. We were in Sicily for her daughter’s wedding. One bright blue day, we were swimming together in the Mediterranean, making our way slowly out to a buoy, in crystal clear water. She asked me why it was so important to me that gay marriage be legalized? She asked sincerely, truly wanting to understand. I responded with exasperated sarcasm and a refusal to explain what, in my mind, should have been obvious. In that one instant, I turned my back on the very conversation I pretend I’m hungry for. I shut it down. Not the Christians. Not Glenn Beck. Or (from longer ago) Anita Bryant. Me. NPR-listening, Dalai-Lama-following, vegetarian me. And it didn’t stop there. Afterward, I couldn’t wait to ‘share’ this exchange with sympathetic ears.
This was one relatively tiny event, in the large scope of things. But my guess is it happens the world over, billions of times a day. And when you think about all of us behaving in this way, unconsciously, the unconsciousness gathers momentum, increases in power. To put it bluntly: on that day last summer in Sicily, I turned my back on world peace and walked resolutely in the opposite direction. At least I noticed, even though much later. And at least, this isn’t the only way I behave in the world. And I’m certain there are many people who are listening deeply, who do try to do the right thing, people who speak respectfully to their families, people who hold up signs at Gay Pride parades that say “We’re sorry.” I guess this is my “I’m sorry” sign, held high in the crowd that gathered for the Sisters Who Want To Know parade.
The truth is, I’m hungry for exactly this kind of real conversation. It’s just—nobody ever taught me how to do it. How to listen without judgment. How to tolerate ambiguity, paradox, and in come cases unconsciousness. But if we are to ever experience true peace in this world, I am convinced we will all need to learn this. And I am learning. Slowly. One conversation at a time.”