This post is a rebuttal to yesterday's SparkLife article, Is Being Intolerant of Intolerance Intolerant?
The pop icon Madonna believes that we are supposed to eat meals composed of yin and yang vegetarian foods for perfect balance, ideally with bancha twig tea. Where I grew up, in a distant country, buttery croissants rained from the skies, and my parents forced me to eat meat until I was 18, in what I thought was a raving act of tyranny at the time. This would have disgusted Madonna, no doubt, but thankfully my diet wasn’t her problem. Beliefs! Some are tasty, some end with you hiding roast beef inside your potato jacket to avoid eating it.
In the U.S., there’s a bit debate right now over whether people who identify as gay should be allowed to marry—this recent survey shows that the majority of the country thinks it should be legal. The problem, as with this senator who changed his mind on the issue after his son came out, is that it should not be a question of “belief.” It is a question of civil rights, of equality. (If we want to get down to the nitty gritty, homosexuality, queer identity, and transgender people are nothing new, which goes against the argument that it is “unnatural” behavior. But this is besides the point.) Should citizens who identify as gay, lesbian, queer, transgender, transexual or bisexual be denied the same civil rights (for purposes of taxation, marital status, hospital visitation and so on) that everyone else enjoys? There is no legal reason that they should.
But what about people who have been “brought up” to hold that homosexuality is “wrong,” based, probably, on religious grounds? Should we have tolerance for their lack of tolerance? Let’s ask a different, less loaded question. If there someone tells me I shouldn’t touch the handlebars while riding my bike on a Tuesday, should I be tolerant of that belief? This is trickier than it seems. That person is free to ride their bike hands-free on Tuesdays, as long as they don’t try to push that belief on me, sure. But by vocalizing their views, they create an atmosphere where it is looked down on to ride a bike with your hands on the handlebars, which can be damaging to those who feel this is natural. Also, handless riding is dangerous (DID YOU SEE CITY OF ANGELS???), if a pretty neat trick).
While everyone is entitled to their beliefs, no matter how nuts (YIN AND YANG FOOD GROUPS!), the rest of the population is not obligated to indulge those beliefs. All religions are open to interpretation and reinterpretation (slavery now not okay!), and trying to understand this world requires an open mind, a questioning mind. Some people alter their beliefs as they grow, some become more invested in them, some abandon them, some never had any. Freedom of religion includes freedom from religion. And for those who choose to follow a religious life, asking questions about that faith is important.
Looking at the issue from the perspective of LGBTQ youths, who are far more likely to commit suicide and be homeless than their peers, let’s see what tolerance looks like: “You disagree with what I feel is my natural identity and believe I am ‘not right.’ And now I must somehow magically not internalize that.” Growing up, I understood about as much about queer culture as I did about what it was like to live in India. I’ve made it a goal to learn more and understand people different to me as I’ve gotten older, and it’s helped me gain a greater sense of who I am, coming from the outback.
I highly recommend everyone watch “The Devotion Project,” which is a series of six short films about LGBTQ couples and families that lets the people speak for themselves. There’s no judgement, just the subjects speaking about their feelings and experiences. For me, it was a window on a world I’m not entirely part of, but want to know better.
What does tolerance mean to you?