Flammarion's Universum Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Flammarion’s Universum
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Tolerance.

Tolerance.

It sounds palatable.  Or, at least it’s been used by so many nice, well-meaning people we believe the word is palatable.

But it’s terrible.

Why?

When we tolerate something, we approach the thing from the perspective that we can’t stand it, or we wish it wasn’t there, or we’d rather it didn’t exist, we judge it harshly, or we hate it – but we’re willing to push down our rising gorge to assert our human dignity.  We throw a blanket over our disdain and hatred, so we can show how enlightened we are.  But the disdain and hatred are still there – and with “tolerance” we grit our teeth and endure it.

And the word “tolerance” somehow makes this acceptable.

Hatred and disdain will fester and breed like a rotting fungus when it’s covered and we pretend it’s not there.  Until at some future point we notice the lumps under the blanket are moving and swelling, and regardless of our worthy intent we can no longer pretend – and the festering putrescence erupts.

I know that’s graphic and gross, but this sad attempt at Homeric simile serves to illustrate my point – if we choose to ignore something by calling it a different name and claiming our behavior is enlightened, the thing is still there, and it can grow while feeding off our hypocrisy.

So what’s the alternative?

Respect.  Appreciation.  Admiration.  Celebration.

My neighbors and friends are different from me and unique.  Each one has his or her own history and life stories to share, and I can grow richer through enjoying their experiences.

With our kids growing up we did not want them to respond to difference with fear, derision, or hatred.  That’s not something for which there’s a switch, so we had to do something else.

We came across a wonderful calendar, which celebrated a different holiday from around the world for every day of the year.  Any day the kids wanted, we could look at the calendar and find something to celebrate – we made cookies for this holiday, paintings for that, an impromptu concert or picnic in the living room.  Each of us would try to find something out about the culture or the holiday and share it with the others – this was in the dark days before the internet, so the research could be tough.  One resource I like today is Earth Calendar, and there are many others.

One of my heroes is Rumi.  He taught, as he put it, the “religion behind religion”.  He recited stories and poems illustrating virtues celebrated by every faith around the planet, and his words still help folks from every background imaginable to find their own unique path.  His words help us become more the person we wish to be.

Another is Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr.  His book Islamic Art and Spirituality helped me develop as a Christian artist.  Another hero is Mother Theresa, another is Gandhi, another is Desmond Tutu.  Of course, the Dalai Lama – a wonderful person who has chosen to be continually be reborn rather than accept enlightenment, because he wants to help us be happier, too.

I am not Muslim, Catholic, Hindu, or Buddhist, but I celebrate these remarkable people and the wondrous lessons their lives continue to teach.

I doubt that would happen if I merely “tolerated” them.

Today is Religious Freedom Day in the US.  There will probably not be any speeches, picnics, or classroom celebrations.  However, that does make today a good excuse to kick tolerance to the curb and embrace difference.

I enjoy finding new things to respect, appreciate, admire, and celebrate about my friends and their histories, beliefs, and backgrounds.  Aside from making the world a much less boring place, the light of the sun seems to burn a little brighter and the stars seem happier when we celebrate, rather than merely endure.

I choose to celebrate.

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