BUILDING BRIDGES: Tolerance is beneath us

It’s degrading to simply be tolerated – we need acceptance, writes columnist Taslim Jaffer.

We shouldn’t tolerate each other anymore.

We shouldn’t ‘allow the existence’ of other cultures and faith groups and other people, in general. I think tolerating people is beneath us.

I tolerate Drake singing about cellphones for the sake of my children, but that doesn’t mean I like that song.

The very definition of tolerate is “accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.” I don’t want to be tolerated – peered at from the end of someone’s nose as something to be endured.

While, on the surface, being OK with someone existing is better than not being OK with it, it shouldn’t be our end goal. I think we, as human beings, have more potential than that.

So, how do we make the leap from tolerating someone to accepting them?

It’s a bit of work, admittedly. Much more work than showing up at a Diwali festival or having lunch at a kebob house. Those are great steps, mind you. But to truly accept someone, you don’t have to leave your front door.

Cultural sensitivity requires one to first examine his or her own biases and acknowledge they exist. That can be difficult; cultural biases are subtle and they are often absorbed into our system by osmosis from our environment.

And refusing to let them take hold of our intellect sometimes alienates us from those in our inner circles, who are caught up in these same biases.

Unless we are willing to admit that they are there, we can’t evaluate them.

What if we took a step back and examined our beliefs about other cultural groups? Where did these beliefs come from? Are the sources reliable? Do we know the full story?

Are our beliefs based on personal experiences with a few members of a group? Are they based on the perspective shown in the media?

What if another way of being is equally valid to our own?

I have a recent example. I spoke at an International Women’s Day event last month in Surrey, at a gathering of women of various faiths. I was rallying women to come together – despite differences – for our common goal of creating a more loving, peaceful world.

I added some facts about Islam and spoke about my experiences as a Muslim woman in an effort to bridge the gap between Muslim and non-Muslim women.

Many women have come to me since the March 5 event to say they appreciated hearing my perspective.

One woman, however, contacted me online and suggested I was misinformed about Islam. She went on to say things that told me she had been listening to my talk with her biases up front and centre.

Her biases were so loud that they weren’t allowing her to hear another perspective. She admitted she would like her own children to be able to get along with others (tolerate) but the differences between our two faith groups were too great for her family to cross (accept).

She was clearly not ready to answer the questions I posed above.

Tolerance is a shaky, vulnerable, don’t-know-if-I’d-try-crossing-it kind of bridge. Acceptance is a strong, sturdy, reliable bridge between people.

Can you see why I’m not even sure the former is worth building?

It’s degrading to be tolerated.

If we truly want to build those strong bridges, we have to get past tolerance and into acceptance. The work is well worth it.

Columnist Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural connections.

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