Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tolerance, tolerate, code talking and getting real

I hate those words. When I was a little kid, my mother used them correctly. She would say "I'm not going to tolerate that behavior" or "I'm going to tolerate that from you today." What she meant was that she was going to put up with something she didn't like. She was going to allow my bad behavior to exist or not exist at that moment. When you speak of something positive and good, you don't say "I'm going to tolerate that." You don't say "We have to show tolerance toward that wonderful thing." Hell no, tolereance implies a negative situation that one is going to accept despite the uncomfortability or negativity surrounding that thing. We knew what tolerate meant then and we know what it means now. It's being used as code for dealing with someone you think is in some way negative, inferior or less than.
If your wife comes in and says "honey, I'm going to give you a blow job" she doesn't ask if you'd be tolerant of that unless she's being extremely sarcastic. You don't "tolerate" a blow job or a great fuck from a beautiful person. You relish it, you wallow in the glory of it, you take great joy in the ecstasy. If somebody gives you $10,000 you don't tolerate it, you thank them profusely and enjoy it.
You tolerate pain. You have tolerance toward the screaming kid at the grocery store who's mother is just trying to buy diapers, a gallon of milk and get the hell out of there. You don't tolerate good things.

Back when I was a corporate dick wad making money off the backs of third world workers and the Earth's environment, I was herded into a room with a mess of co-workers and given a lecture on "tolerance." That was sometime in the late 80s or real early 90s and I'd already decided I didn't like that word in reference to people in the workplace so I asked the moron giving the lecture, and who had probably never heard the terms post-colonial or post-modern, "do you want me to tolerate my friend Gerald here or would you rather I fully accept him into the workplace and make him a comfortable and equal member of the work team?"
The silence in the room was hilarious. . . for me. The moron, who was also one of my high level bosses stood there and finally said, "we'll talk later." "Later" never came, but my next higher boss later informed me that making statements that were not agreeable to the big boss during a lecture like that was not beneficial toward my career. . . like I gave a shit. I tried to explain the reality of their farce using terms I had learned in my recent graduate courses in Cultural Studies, but they were once again met with blank stares. That was just one more time when I realized that I had made a big mistake somewhere along the line in my career choices.

But back to the point. . . tolerate, tolerance and tolerant are not terms we should use when talking about people who are somehow different from the majority in the work place be it people of color, gays or physically challenged. When we have people who are somehow different from the majority working beside us, if you are one of the majority, you shouldn't be "tolerating" an uncomfortable situation. You should be totally accepting of them just like you would anyone else. It's not about "putting up with" or "allowing" anything. It's about total acceptance. It's about treating that person the same way you'd treat any other human being, not tolerating someone less than or inferior.

So let's get past these misnomers and words with negative implications. Let's talk about acceptance. Let's talk about the reality of it and that is NOT being prejudiced. Let's talk about racism, sexism and homophobia. Let's talk about WHY people are different and what makes them different. Let's talk about why growing up in a white suburban neighborhood makes me certain ways and why growing up in a black urban environment makes someone else the way they are and why some cracker from out on a ridge or down on a creek is the way they are. Let's put it all out there.
Talking in code and tip toeing around these issues is just going to perpetuate the bullshit.


Take it to the streets. Ask your friend who is different from you how they feel being the way they are. Explain to them how you feel in your skin. Communicate with others. Show an interest in other people. Let them know you want to understand them and you'd like them to understand you. That is the only way we're going to end this stupidity we're all engaged in.



MacDaddy said...

Having grown up Muslim, the blow-job reference made me blush and lower my head a little bit. But it did help to make the point: you don't tolerate people but accept them as they are. No one could have said it better...

I've found that, when people use these code words, even with good intentions, people of color, gays or any of the people referenced don't want to be in the discussion or around the people using these words. And even if people don't use the words but think from that posture (that they are "tolerating" someone), the group referenced know it and don't want to be around those folks. They know that the person using this terminology, or thinking from that posture, thinks less or them, thinks that they are in some inferior...

And then they wonder why we then choose to go off and be with each other and not with them.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Daddy, I don't purposely offend, it just sorta come natural. I don't censor my thinking either here or in real life and I pretty much come out with most of what I'm thinking unless it is obviously offensive.
Really, I believe that the more we put sex/sexuality out there as normal everyday things that happen, the sooner we'll have a society that is safe from sexual predators and other people who have twisted fucked up ideas about sex and power.

Yea, those code words are nasty and obvious to many of us. And like you said, even when people use them without thinking and with the best intentions, it totally messes up the whole deal for those who recognize them. Hope I didn't use any in my tirade.

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I need to really think about those code words more.

Stimpson said...

It's interesting, SH, how your post complements MacDaddy's most recent one at his daddybstrong blog, where he relates the story of a child who wasn't even shown tolerance by some of his peers.

I've always said that tolerance is a bare minimum, rather than a true virtue. Your remark at the workplace tolerance session was spot-on. Good for you.

Her Side said...

OMG. I think I'm in love. LOL

I HATED those darned public service announcements on television about "tolerance." They talked about it like you should get a cookie for "tolerating" your neighbor, and I wondered what kind of racist snob came up with the campaign.

Like you say here, tolerance refers to negative situations, unpleasant things, and folks we believe to be beneath us. Thankfully, I don't wake each morning with a goal to tolerate the other humans with which I share this planet.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

That's right. I tolerate the obnoxious asshole that I'm forced to work with every day. . . well, actually I'm retired from corporate life and I don't have to tolerate anybody I don't want to anymore.
Tolerance is something that red necks and other racists, homophobes, sexists, etc. have to apply.
BTW: When I began working in corporate world, the old guys I worked with had been asked a few years before if they would be "willing" to work with women and blacks. The ones that said yes did and the ones that said no were not forced to "tolerate."
That wasn't so long ago. I'm sure glad we've come a long way since then.

Spread the love!

arrozconpollo said...

Great points sagacious. Tolerate is a minimum standard...that means you can barely stand to be around someone, but do anyway to make yourself feel better.

I tolerate the ignorant right wing fucks who blather about fiscal policies they were supporting just 4 months ago. I tolerate people knowingly bullshitting me. I tolerate people driving too slow in the fast lane.

So, I do see a purpose in tolerating, or having a minimum standard of treating people. As long as there's one exception: I will not tolerate the intolerant.