Tolerate? Not Good Enough

My dad died a year ago today. He wasn’t the best dad in the world. He suffered for most of his life from depression, and like most men of his generation he did nothing to talk about it or to deal with it. He kept it locked up, ignored it, and eventually I believe it contributed to his death. He died in a nursing home at the age of 76, a shell of the man he used to be. He was emotionally stunted, not able to talk about his emotions or to really form deep relationships. However, he did have some positives. He was a kind and gentle man. He had no prejudice in him and he was very firm about some things.

“You never raise your hands to a woman, and regardless of who they are you show respect to people”

Ideas and principles that may seem a bit old fashioned, but which we could probably learn from today. Anyway, enough reminiscing.

The dictionary defines “tolerate” as

to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of without prohibition or hindrance; endure without repugnance; put up with:

In the School Inspection Handbook we will be judged on how well we encourage children to show individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. In my view this is not good enough. We should not be using the word “tolerate.” We should not “tolerate” those who have a different colour skin, a different language, a different set of beliefs, a different way of living or a different gender or sexuality. To “tolerate” these differences implies that we do it grudgingly or we “put up with” others reluctantly.

When I read the press, or news websites the language used is quite interesting. We hear of black people, gay people, Muslim people, Jewish people, transgender people, famous people, and all sorts of other phrases where the adjective comes first. Why? Shouldn’t the focus be on the noun? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on “people?” When we concentrate on whatever description we like, we are somehow promoting the characteristic, rather than the person. We are saying that the description is more important than the person. I prefer the use of different phrases. This is starting to happen when we talk about what it is to be a person of colour. Finally, we are recognising that the person comes first. I know that for some the description is vitally important. It is a part of defining them as a person. It is part of their identity and persona. It has had a real impact on their development and their upbringing. It also has had an impact on their attitudes and they way they view the world. Sometimes this can be positive, but also it can be negative.

Biologically every person is 99.9% the same when it comes to DNA. We are all in a very real sense related to each other, in the words of Sister Sledge, “We are family.” There is no biological basis for any form of racism or discrimination.

I am, as I have said before, a middle aged, white heterosexual man. I have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up and live as a person of colour, a woman, a person who is gay, lesbian, transgender or any other sexuality or gender. I have no understanding of what it is like to grow up with a faith other than catholicism. I have never been arrested or stopped by the police because of my colour. I have never suffered any abuse based on my gender or sexuality. I have never been berated or threatened when I have gone to church. I suppose in my naivety that everyone was treated the same. What a fool.

We should not “tolerate” these things that make us different. We should celebrate them, cherish them, embrace them. Our children are not born with any form of prejudice, they learn it from us. They learn hatred from those around them. We should be teaching them compassion, empathy, understanding and acceptance.

I was lucky, my dad left me with a deep sense of respect for all. I cannot comprehend why anyone should treat a person the way George Floyd was treated. To have another human being kneel on your neck for almost nine minutes while you are gasping for breath, and have them think it is acceptable is inconceivable to me. And repugnant.

Wherever I look at the moment I see slogans and posts on social media saying that Black Lives Matter. I couldn’t agree more. I see people of all colours coming together to support each other. I see more and more examples of where Black Lives didn’t matter. Where the people who are supposed to protect and serve the public have reneged on their duty and allowed their prejudice and hatred to come to the fore. This cannot continue. This cannot be our society. This cannot be the legacy we leave for our children. This cannot be what our leaders tacitly allow to happen.

As educators we have a responsibility to change hatred to love, prejudice to understanding and indifference to compassion. We must educate all of our children to respect the dignity of each human being. Schools should be places of learning about our world, celebrating the variety of human existence and sharing what makes us unique. We must stop teaching our children to tolerate and put up with others as though it is something we do reluctantly.

Perhaps my late dad had a point about respecting every single person, regardless of whatever adjective is used to describe them. Intolerance and prejudice has blighted human history. It continues to be a stain on humanity. There has to be a better way.


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