Strange things happen to the mind with time, as you grow a bit less innocent in thought and deed. Things that seemed clear as the light of day now seem less so, boundaries blur, sureties are far less certain. Reality is fluid, individual, based on our perception of it. The way we think, and feel, and see becomes all the more magical, in a strange sort of way, perhaps because we are more aware of life’s mysteries.
There is a rather beautiful arrogance that comes with youth, usually free of ill intent, a confidence in ourselves and those around us which pushes us to forge ahead, to succeed… to survive. We believe that we are uniquely poised to see the world clearly and accurately. We believe that what we see and feel are truths that should be apparent to all, and if they don’t see things the way we do, well then they are just mistaken.
It is this clarity that, at least for me, has faded with time. Sounds sad, like a lessening, a blindness, but on the contrary, it is a sort of delightful liberation from truths and absolutes. My eyes have opened to show me that the world is full of multiple realities. We are all capable of blinding moments of brilliance, and of colossal mistakes. What makes us human is what unites us, even across those boundaries so neatly placed to separate us, our glories as well as our flaws.
Early on we draw lines to separate, to place the multifaceted aspects of our lives into separate boxes in the guise of simplicity and to help us to make sense of our often chaotic world, a cacophony of difference. For some, these weaken, freeing us to wiggle among them as we embrace difference and the richness that life offers. For others, these lines become darker, deeper, and instead of helping them to understand they blind them from doing so.
We all see those little signs on the wall of our workplace “We do not discriminate on the basis of…” and we nod as if to say “well, of course not,” but at the same time we know that life is about differentiating, deciding who we are with and who we are against. We gather with our own not only out of shared culture but also to encourage our children, our families and friends to feel like part of the tribe, to remain within it.
Did you know one organization, while drafting a charter, defined twenty-eight types of intolerance?
…race, color, heritage, national or ethnic origin, nationality, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, language, religion, political opinions or opinions of any kind, social origin, socioeconomic status, educational level, migrant, refugee, repatriate, stateless or internally displaced status, stigmatized infectious-contagious condition or any other mental or physical health-related condition, genetic trait, disability, debilitating psychological condition, or any other social condition.
Can anyone honestly say that they have not found themselves judging another based on even one if not more of these criteria? Admit it, we all do. The key point to remember is that there is a chasm of difference between accepting difference and being tolerant of it, our English language already, perhaps, tainted in its definition.
The other day I received an invitation to a child’s party, one that had gone out to many, the host generously spreading a wide net of invitations so as not to exclude anyone. The mother of one of the invited children sent me an email to ask if my daughter would be attending, saying that she was checking if her daughter’s “A” list would be going. How perfectly lovely that she considered my daughter to be on the dais of her daughter’s tribe of A-listers; how ineffably sad it made me to see not only her way of looking at the world, but also that she touted it rather nonchalantly. Her truth. Everyone’s truth. A and B and god forbid C.
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I leave you with a movie to watch (free download here), the image of which I’ve used to illustrate this post.
Only 3-1/2 hours (!) but from what I’ve seen (and I’ve only watched a bit so far) and read, it’s well worth your while. Made in 1916 with a budget of over two million (yes, two million dollars which in 1916 was astronomical and unheard of) this silent film apparently flopped in the box office but lives on, many defining it as a masterpiece. It’s called—what else?— Intolerance.