Say what you will about the past; our modern world is teeming with intolerance. Compared with our forebears, we enjoy sundry more avenues through which to judge others’ genetics, behaviors, and affiliations.
We wax poetic about diversity but prefer to sort ourselves into intimate bubbles of like-mindedness. Intolerance through ignorance is our modus operandi.
In fact, we have nearly perfected the art of intolerance. I would argue we have crafted one fine “taxonomy of intolerance.”
A taxonomy rooted in judging genetic factors—race, sexual orientation and gender identity, height and weight, Western notions of “beauty” and skin complexion.
One grounded in damning personal beliefs and convictions—frightening religions. All manner of offensive dress and disdainful tastes for various art forms.
Many of us simply can’t tolerate others’ inherited cultural/circumstantial factors—their strange languages, lower incomes, silly traditions, and rituals.
But what is tolerance, really? According to our friend, Google, tolerance derives from the early 16th-century Latin root, tolerat, meaning “to endure”, as in enduring pain. Recently the word has taken on a softer meaning. It now pertains to permitting something to exist “without interference.” A sort of laisser être, a kind of “letting it be.”
Most of us can agree: we should let it be. And letting something or someone be = tolerance.
Let’s think of tolerance as a natural human state. We’re not naturally intolerant creatures—though some persist in thinking so. Instead, we learn intolerance from important others and life experience. Thus, to propagate tolerance, we must struggle contra intolerance.
Which reminds me: remember that saying, most often attributed to Ben Franklin, but likely coopted from an ancient Chinese philosopher?:
Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I learn.
I’d like to apply this kind of “stage approach” to learning—(1) “tell me”; (2) “teach me”; and (3) “involve me”—to how we develop tolerance. Ergo, I present you with a stage approach to tolerance:
- Proximity. Simultaneously using the same public or private space. Sharing a sidewalk or park. Riding the bus or train together. Living close to each other. Proximity is the realm of real-estate developers, city planners and administrators.
- Exposure. Interacting in transactional or scheduled ways. The customer and cashier, the employee and patron. Participants in a yoga class. Exposure is the realm of economic development planners and purveyors of packaged experiences.
- Instrumental interaction. Interacting within wage labor structures. Working together at the same organization or business. Working on school projects together. Instrumental interaction is the realm of educators and employers.
- Conviviality. Acting together to help one another satisfy basic needs of hunger, thirst, shelter, nature, spirituality, and authentic companionship. Conviviality is the realm of self-determined people. And it’s the only way we can expect people with diverse backgrounds to truly tolerate one another.
As we noted earlier, in capitalist cultures, we inevitably sort into homogeneous groups. No one person or group of people are to fault for this. Sorting reflects a failure of our social, economic, and political systems. Among other things, sorting reduces our chances of being exposed (#2 above) to each other.
Consider how well-endowed neighborhoods secure well-endowed schools and public facilities. Consider how the knowledge economy chooses only those with the most elite formal educations. Consider how cities maintain sidewalks in wealthier areas, and less so in poorer ones.
Consider MTV’s nationally representative survey of millennials and how this group of young people experiences and responds to racial bias. Turns out that young white Americans scoff at the idea of racism, yet don’t wish to come to terms with it, which as the author, Jamelle Bouie summed up,
A generation that hates racism but chooses colorblindness is a generation that, through its neglect, comes to perpetuate it.
Might the fact that three-quarters of white people have zero non-white friends contribute to white folks’ unease with open conversation about race?
When we open our eyes, we see how larger forces separate us. They divide us into segregated neighborhoods. And this segregation ripples throughout our social landscape creating segregated:
- places of worship
- community centers
- parks and playgrounds
- grocery stores—if indeed there are any
- shopping centers
- transit stops
We ants of the broader community may cross paths from time to time—i.e., by exchanging money, or flipping each other off at traffic lights, or nodding when passing each other on the sidewalk—but at the end of the day, we crawl right back to the comforts of our homogenous colonies.
So how does a capitalist culture promote tolerance? Thus far, it’s by issuing policies. You know the drill: cracking down on hate crimes. Re-arranging students like chess pieces in the spirit of “busing for diversity.” Sponsoring “diversity days” to celebrate people coming together under the guise of capitalist consumption.
In the end, what most policies achieve is increased exposure to the Other. Nothing more.
People leading diverse schools and workplaces, for their part, often work toward instrumental interaction (#3 above). As when students from diverse racial backgrounds collaborate on class assignments. And when workplaces privilege collaborative problem-solving among diverse peoples.
But how are we to achieve conviviality (#4 above), that equitable state of genuine tolerance through living together? By supporting vernacular activity, of course! Through arranging our daily routines to directly address the needs of life.
People building fires. Planting and growing and harvesting food. Building and repairing homes. Making music and theater. Together. There’s little room for intolerance among interdependent people. Among folks leading spirited, convivial lives.Follow SethLaJ307