A Lesson in Tolerance

I’ve spent some time hating.  I’ve spent some time complaining.  And I’ve spent some time questioning.  I’ve searched my soul… and something unexpected occurred to me.  Something I would like to share with the world.  Or at least as much of it as I have the power to reach.

I’m going to break down some seemingly common misconceptions about what it means to be tolerant… and what it means to be intolerant.  I’m going to do this because I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe… there are people who genuinely don’t understand the difference.  That at least some of this swirling hatred might be coming out of a simple misunderstanding.

I’d like to paint a picture for you in a way that I hope will be easy to understand and follow.  To accomplish this, I’m going to use an example of a situation that is widely considered a “hot button” subject – a situation that I expect everyone to have some level of familiarity with.

Imagine a religious person who believes that homosexuality is morally wrong.  We’ve probably all known someone who feels this way.  You might even be one of them.  But your personal views on the matter aren’t what’s important in this analogy.  What I have to say applies to all sides of the fence.

First I’d like to ask you: What opinion have you formed of our example religious person?  Do you think they are intolerant?  Closed-minded?  Homophobic?  Hateful?

Would it surprise you if I were to say that it’s not intolerant to believe homosexuality is morally wrong?  Because, despite popular opinion – it’s NOT intolerant to believe homosexuality is morally wrong.  I’m going to repeat that.  It’s not intolerant to believe homosexuality is morally wrong.  It truly isn’t.  At least not on the face of it.

Please understand that I am not saying I personally believe that homosexuality is morally wrong – because nothing could be further from the truth.  I am merely saying that a person having that belief alone is not sufficient to label them as intolerant.  So, before you write me off as being intolerant and homophobic – please allow me to explain WHY.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, tolerance is defined as “willingness to accept behavior and beliefs that are different from your own, even if you disagree or disapprove of them.”

What that basically means is, you can disagree with and even DISAPPROVE of a person’s behavior or beliefs and still be tolerant.  Because it’s not one’s personal feelings on the matter that determines their tolerance; but rather their ACTIONS towards the person they disagree with.

So, let’s take this information back to our example.  If the religious person in question accepts and respects a person who is homosexual, even though it goes against their personal morals and beliefs (e.g. “love the sinner, hate the sin”), then that person IS tolerant.  They are THE VERY DEFINITION of tolerant.

Now, if our example religious person refuses to accept and respect people solely for their sexuality, that is an entirely different scenario.  In that instance, they ARE intolerant.  Possibly even hateful.

But here’s where it REALLY gets interesting.  Did you judge our example religious person without taking the time to get to know them?  Did you write them off solely for their beliefs about homosexuality?  Do you refuse to accept and respect them because of those beliefs?  Maybe even hate them over it?

Would it surprise you if I were to say that anyone who answered “yes” to those questions is intolerant?  Because, anyone who answered yes to those questions IS intolerant.  I’m going to repeat that.  Anyone who hates a person, solely because they believe homosexuality is wrong, is intolerant. They are THE VERY DEFINITION of intolerant.  (Which, according to the Cambridge Dictionary is defined as “refusing to accept ideas, beliefs, or behavior that are different from our own.”)

If you alienate or treat a person disrespectfully because you disagree with their views and opinions, there is no “pass” that will magically make your behavior become tolerant.  Claiming that your actions aren’t intolerant because “they” are intolerant is NOT a valid argument.  Trying to excuse your behavior will likely only make you MORE intolerant.  It can turn into a vicious cycle if you let it.

That doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to alienate or treat a person disrespectfully when you disagree with their views and opinions.  You have a right to your opinion even when it is intolerant, hateful, or disrespectful..  As does everyone else, no matter how much you disagree with them!  As long as you do not HARM the person you hate, then you have the right to hate them for any reason.  But keep in mind, they have just as much right to hate YOU!

So, ask yourself what kind of person you want to be.  Do you want to be tolerant?  Or do you want to be intolerant?  Do you want to be accepting of people with different backgrounds and beliefs?  Or do you want to be closed-minded?

If you think it’s ok to hate and lash out at people whose views you have deemed intolerant, you may want to give yourself a hard look in the mirror.

Who are you REALLY mad at?

It really blows my mind, the way that some people displace their anger and hate.  Someone they love does them horribly wrong… and they find someone else to be the scapegoat.  Someone else to direct all these wild, uncontrollable, and passionate negative emotions towards.

A perfect example of this phenomenon can often be seen in women who catch their significant other cheating.  More often than not, rather than take it out on their partner, the one who betrayed them and lied to them… they take it out on the other woman.  The woman, who in most cases didn’t even know that you existed.  The woman, who was most likely ALSO being lied to and betrayed by the worthless sack of shit that you are both in love with.

But there you are, grabbing her by her hair and screaming in her face that she’s a “ho”.  There you are, threatening her with bodily harm if she doesn’t stay away from YOUR significant other – when you should be BREAKING UP with your significant other.

And there she is, just finding out that YOU exist.  Just learning that HER significant other is a cheater.  HER heart just as ripped out of her chest and stomped on as yours.  And there she is, with all the proof she needs standing in front of her to convince herself that you are some deranged lunatic.  All the proof she needs to SYMPATHIZE with this asshole.  No wonder HER man is afraid to end it with you, that poor baby.

I know WHY this happens.  It happens out of weakness.  It hurts too much to blame the person you love.  It hurts too much to accept that they don’t love you back the same way.  You need SOMEONE to demonize so that you can give your partner a pass.  Because, if you don’t give them a pass you can’t justify to yourself why you are staying with them.  And you HAVE to stay with them, you’ve convinced yourself you could never have anything that good with anyone else.

Except it’s a fairytale.  It’s NOT that good with them, they are betraying you now and they will do it again.  It was all built on lies – but you want that fiction back.  “It’s all HER fault.  Once she’s gone, everything will be perfect.”

This isn’t love.  You think it is, but it’s actually very selfish.  It’s all about making yourself feel better in the present moment at any cost.  And part of that cost is your self-respect and any chance of having a healthy relationship.  And it WILL catch up to you.  But that doesn’t matter to you right now… that’s a problem for future you.  Present you’s needs are more pressing.

It’s not just women who catch their significant other cheating, that was just a convenient example that most people can relate to.  It happens every day, in all kinds of situations with friends and family members…. Even with OURSELVES.  The traits inside us that we hate… and the people who hold up a mirror to our faces to force us to see them.

Rather than try to change the things about ourselves that we don’t like, we want to tear down the people who showed us or brought out those things… Like that person we are jealous of who is just SO DAMN NICE that we want to punch them in the face!  Or the person that WE hurt, but because it’s too hard to deal with the guilt we find a way to make it THEIR FAULT!

Like I said… I know WHY this happens…. I just don’t know why we LET it happen (if that makes any sense).

I try very hard NOT to be that person, though I’m far from perfect so I have been guilty of it in my past and even now I am sure at times I fail.  The thing that concerns me, is that I don’t think most people can even say they try not to be that person.  I can’t help but feel like most people WANT to be that way, at least on a subconscious level.  Or maybe it’s not that they want to be, it’s just that they’ve never really even thought about it.  And so I ask you, who are you REALLY mad at?

Is the World Black and White? Or are there Shades of Gray?

Recently I did something I thought I would never do… I allowed the cruel words of a complete stranger to get under my skin.  I allowed them to wound me.  To cause me to question myself (for a minute or two).

Normally, I only concern myself with the opinions of people who matter to me – those who I love and/or respect.  All other opinions just roll off my back…. Normally.

Something was different the night this happened.  Something about this opinion just wouldn’t be ignored.

Perhaps I have just been more sensitive lately, with some of the recent events in my life (that I won’t go into now).  Or perhaps so much time separating myself from harmful people caused my emotional calluses to soften.  Or perhaps it was just meant to be that I have this experience.  That I learn from it.

The words weren’t really about me, you must understand.  The person who wrote them never met me and did not have me in mind.  She was merely expressing her thoughts about a group of people that I am included within.  You see, in this woman’s world – because I can check a certain box off next to my name, I have no empathy and am not capable of feeling love – oh, and I am an INSECT.  (There are only two kinds of people empaths and insects, didn’t you know that?  Yeah, it was news to me as well.)

This person believes “the world really is black and white” so therefore I am EXACTLY the same as a PSYCHOPATH.  To her, just by existing, I am as harmful as a serial killer.  Just by existing, I may as well be skinning people in my basement. (A touch of hyperbole here, but most deserving of it, I assure you.)

Why?  Because: “Call it by a name; narcissist, sociopath, psychopath, bipolar, even autistic. All disorders lacking empathy. Cluster “B” personalities. They can not love. On the other end there is depression, anxiety, stress… All disorders felt by those who have empathy and usually as a result of dealing with a non-empathetic person.” [I will NOT link to the original source, as this person does not deserve your attention.]

(Should I mention the irony that she thinks people with Cluster “B” Personality Disorders are insects when one of those disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder, is identified as having “extreme black and white thinking”?  Of course, this same person ALSO went on to say that spreading hate about someone different than themselves makes them an insect – so there seems to be A LOT of projection at work here.)

To be perfectly honest, as I was first reading her blog I didn’t think she was just the worthless human being she clearly is (perhaps I suffered a head wound).  I innocently thought she was just miseducated.  After all, some of the disorders on her list CAN present with a lack of empathy or difficultly recognizing emotions in others.  Perhaps she just misunderstood what that meant.  Most people who haven’t dealt with mental illness first hand are completely clueless about it.

For a bit there, I foolishly thought I could actually educate her and make the world a slightly better place.  (Maybe that has a lot to do with why I allowed her words to have such a strong effect on me.)  I mean, not EVERYTHING she said was so off-base.  Such as the following:

“Wars should not be about religion, politics nor race. None of those things really matter. What does matter, is being human and helping one another.”

But then I started to read some of the upset comments people had left her…. And her responses back.  The things she said to the parents of autistic children were just plain DERANGED.  She told them their children didn’t really love them, that they were just convincing themselves that they did to make themselves feel better, and that the PARENTS were SPREADING HATE by ENABLING their children!

Logically I knew nothing I had to say would make any difference either, so don’t know why I bothered.  But I couldn’t live with myself if I said nothing.  So I left a comment of my own.

“The only way to see the world in black and white, is to lack empathy yourself. Those who possess empathy have the ability to see the shades of gray created by trying to understand another human being’s perspective. Not everyone feels things the same or reacts to things the same, and you can never know what goes on inside them. But if you have empathy, you try to. If you don’t try to, you don’t have empathy.

‘Any person who spreads hate about someone different than them, you can almost automatically assume that person is an insect.’

The people who suffer from the disorders you mentioned are different from you, and rather than try to understand them you have made things easier for yourself by writing them off. You’ve manufactured justification so there is no need to try to understand them by turning them into an “insect”. And in this post, you are telling others to do so as well – and that is most certainly spreading hate.”

I felt good about my comment.  Very good.  But somehow my cloud still lingered.  Her words of hate still clawed at my soul.  This woman is the embodiment of the fears of stigma that every person with a mental illness has in their heart when it comes to people “finding out”.   I thought she was just the bogeyman.  (i.e. I was scared of people feeling the way she does, but never actually BELIEVED that educated people in this day and age really did.)

Thankfully, she responded back to me.  Because her response was enough to finally knock some sense into me and help me to stop caring about her opinion.

Her reply: “Those who see “grey”and feel empathy are enablers. The only thing more dangerous than an insect is an empathy driven person tricked into enabling an insect.”

Sooo… what you’re saying is… the only thing worse than NOT feeling empathy… is actually FEELING empathy???  I was actually foolish enough to allow THIS person’s words upset me?  Shit, now I’m embarrassed as hell.  But like I said earlier, perhaps I was MEANT to have this experience.  Because retrospectively, I feel like it was profoundly important.

Even after I stopped allowing myself to be hurt by it, the experience stayed on my mind all night and all day.  It’s ironic – being told I was not capable of feeling empathy just opened me up to a new level of empathy when it comes to how it feels to be discriminated against.

Here’s the thing – I have been discriminated against plenty of times in my life for various things (as has EVERYONE at some point). For my gender, my age, my appearance, my social status, my sexuality, and of course my mental illness. The list goes on.

Sometimes this discrimination is not even worth discussion, because it’s just the opinion of some asshole on the street. Sometimes it’s more dangerous and has kept me from getting jobs or promotions that I deserved or otherwise impacted my ability to live my life the way I deserve to.

But this… this was the first time I ever experienced discrimination that made me feel SUB-HUMAN. The difference between someone assuming you aren’t as good as they are because of something you cannot control versus someone assuming you aren’t the same SPECIES as they are and are therefore INCAPABLE of feeling the same emotions as they do. That you are completely wiped out as being A PERSON.

I didn’t realize this level of discrimination still existed in the First World.  But it’s just a small sliver of what Black people had to endure during slavery and segregation, or Jews during the Holocaust, and many other groups in different times and cultures.  Except not just from one random asshole – from society as a whole. From the LAW and respected, educated people.

This has always been some of the darkest parts of humanity, and I have always had a very soft spot for the people who endured it and a hatred of the people who enacted it. But I now feel like I can better put myself in their shoes and imagine their pain. It physically hurts. I’ve had to stop myself from publically crying. (Must be a fluke though, since people with Bipolar Disorder can’t feel empathy or love.)

So thank you, random bitch on the internet.  Your hatred just helped to make me a slightly better and more understanding person.