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Jason Mannino

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Tolerance Is Not For Rent

Posted: 02/20/09 08:19 AM ET

This week, for the first time in Oscar history, a political protest is being staged (in the past they have only been health related for breast cancer and AIDS). You will see people at the Oscar's this year wearing white ribbons urging people to shift paradigms from intolerance to tolerance in support of marriage equality for all people. Also, this past Tuesday the Silicon Valley Mercury News reported that after hearing testimony about gay marriage, the Assembly Judiciary Committee voted 7-3 in favor of overturning the gay marriage ban, Proposition 8. That same day the Los Angeles Times reported that the principal of a high school in Newport Beach canceled their spring musical production of the high school version (this means rewritten to remove any inappropriateness) of Rent, which was chosen by the drama teacher in hopes of teaching tolerance after hearing homophobic slurs throughout the school.

Upon reading the latter I found myself frustrated and fascinated with the dichotomy of tolerance and intolerance we experience in our culture. I asked myself, "How do the young people of our society grow up to be intolerant?" Of course, this was a rhetorical question. Our young people are taught fear, hate, and to invalidate others from social institutions like our families, churches, synagogues, peer groups, and, as illustrated above, even our schools.

Some of our greatest American Musicals, including Rent, teach the very tolerance this principal seeks to stifle. This is clearly illustrated in a song from South Pacific, which has proven to be extremely timely as one of the most successful shows currently on Broadway in its 60th anniversary revival. In the show, white bread army nurse Nellie Forbush declines French Plantation owner Emile De Becque's marriage proposal on the grounds that they are too "different" after discovering his mixed race children from his deceased wife. Emile De Beque, referring to this racism says to Lt. Gable, "I do not believe it is born in you! I do not believe it!" The American Lt. responds that it is not born in you and in the song "You've Got to be Carefully Taught," says,

You've got to be taught to hate and fear. You've got to be taught from year to year. It has to be drummed in your dear little ear. You've got to be carefully taught...before it's too late, before you are 6, or 7, or 8 to hate all the people your relatives hate! You've got to be carefully taught!
Another example of a musical that preaches tolerance is West Side Story. After Tony is killed by one of the Puerto Rican gang members, Maria passionately cries in the song "Somewhere,"

There's a place for us. Someday there'll be a place for us. Hold my hand and where half way there, hold my and I'll take you there..Someday, Somewhere, we'll find a new way of living. We'll find there's a way of forgiving...Somewhere.

I can't help but wonder if it were 1979 (10 or 20 years following West Side Story's premiere), if the same principal who canceled Rent would cancel West Side Story, which is a very important piece of American Musical Theater, on the grounds that the show has Puerto Rican characters that join gangs, carry knives, smoke cigarettes, and kill people.

In my personal and professional experience I know that having internalized, negative belief systems fed to us as children often leaves us wondering why we are not creating the results we want in our lives. As a result, we spend significant time with coaches, therapists, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends undoing these negative paradigms that we never consciously requested.

Rent deals with people and circumstances representing a significant portion of our youth who pushed the boundaries of perceived normalcy in the early 90's dealing with issues of AIDS, poverty, sexual orientation, drugs, and even death. This principal sends a message of intolerance to her students by cancelling it because of this content. The show illustrates what was at the time (and in some cases still is) reality for many young people in our country. Although it may not be the reality of kids in conservative, wealthy Newport Beach, how could it hurt for them to learn the message of love and acceptance that it represents?

As adults, it becomes each of our responsibility to choose whether we want to transmit tolerance and love or intolerance, hate, and fear to our children. And, it starts with each of us, individually. I encourage you to begin to notice where in your life you are intolerant. I also encourage you to engage in a transformation of the word that can support a shift in your experience. The word intolerance, broken into two words is "in" and "tolerance," which is quite directive. This word transformation suggests going inward where you can access the experience of your true, loving essence. This experience moves you beyond judgment and into acceptance. It is in the experience of love and acceptance where we can heed the call of the opening number of Act II of Rent, "How do you measure a year in the life? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee....Measure in Love!" And, let's teach it to our children!

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