It seems to be the motif amongst among our university’s (and perhaps nation’s) self-proclaimed progressives, modernists and the like to adopt the ever-so-imperative characteristic of tolerance. The term has been christened by popular culture as the key to the social and moral success of our diverse nation. In addition, it has infiltrated its way into conversations in every Starbucks from Castro Street to the East Village as a badge of social superiority – implying that if one mentions it as a component of their credo, they are by default further along on the intellectual timeline than those who do not. However, such a line of thinking does not carry with it the lofty idealism of perfect equality that some might think it does. Allow me to explain my reasoning.
I’m quite sure (or would at least like to think) that my gay friends do not say to themselves, “Willy nilly, Nevada is a really great friend of mine. He really tolerates me.” Similarly, I would like to think that my black friends never say to themselves, “Nevada really tolerates my skin color. I wish there were more people like him.” I don’t think there was ever a time when my Mexican friends thought, “I’m glad Nevada is half Mexican. Who knows how much he’d put up with my minority membership if he were totally butt-white.” And I’ll bet my Muslim friends… well, I actually don’t have any, so maybe I should acquire some to appear more tolerant. But you get the idea.
Rather than tolerate people on the basis of their affiliation to a particularly “under-voiced” (or over-voiced) group, why not respect them on the basis of their individuality? Why not get to know them and treat them on the merits of their personality accordingly? It is perfectly reasonable to love and respect an individual while completely disregarding their race or sexual preference as a sufficient means of doing so.
It also seems equally reasonable to judge someone’s character by what they are capable of, or what they have done, rather than by what group they belong to, or even reacting to them at all simply out of an obligation to spread equality around. The problem with such a spread becomes apparent when it spreads too thin, leaving those most deserving of respect or reverence devoid of any such recognition.
The effects of such can be seen in the reverse-racist systems like Affirmative Action and Title IX. Under these implementations, those filling an ethnic or gender quota are recognized before those most qualified, and what seems theoretically noble proves in practice to be the complete opposite.
In all honesty, it should be apparent that treating everyone equally is actually quite absurd. Some people suck. Others are ignorant. Some people make bad decisions that get them in the positions they’re in. Others lie, cheat and steal. Some can’t drive for shit. Others can’t rule a country but do so anyway. And so tolerance, my fellow students, while stemming from good intentions and providing a good start, is not entirely the answer. It only gets us a few small steps on the road that leads to what we really need and truly want: respect from others that is based on our personality, capabilities and accomplishments, independent of erroneous factors such as race or sexual or religious orientation.
In Dr. Martin Luther King’s prophetic and eloquent “I Have a Dream” speech, King illustrates my point perfectly: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
These words create for me a new and refreshing credo to live by. One that transcends tolerance and tells us that rather than assuming a moral utopia will magically arise from tolerating everyone equally, we should attempt to better ourselves, our school and the world in which we live by treating others with the respect and love their character merits.