I had a dream a couple nights ago. A mysterious figure was speaking to me about the meaning of the word "tolerance." The voice instructed me to wake up, get out of bed and write down the content of my dream, but I refused, certain I would remember everything. When I awoke, however, I went about my day remembering nothing of the dream.
A couple days later an email arrived with this quote by Gandhi. "Tolerance," Gandhi said, "implies a gratuitous assumption of the inferiority to other faiths to one's own." All at once my dream came crashing back into my awareness as I hurriedly scribbled down notes of the memories flooding my mind. I'd never considered the word "tolerance" before.
The dream drew my attention to the power of the words we choose, as well as a deeper issue. Tolerance may sound like a welcome reprieve from the intolerance millions have suffered throughout history, and considering the magnitude of violence committed due to intolerance it is significant progress. But in 2012, have we not evolved beyond merely tolerating other people and groups we don't agree with? Perhaps it is time for us, as both individuals and collectively, to aspire to something far more benevolent and loving. What is implied when we say we are "tolerant" of another person or group's beliefs, lifestyle or choices?
When we declare we are tolerant there is an air of judgment and superiority, as if we are putting up with someone or something we don't approve of. We have deemed their choice inferior to ours, but we will take the high road and tolerate them. From this vantage point we assume the role of judge and jury, determining our verdict of quiet disapproval. If we focus on what we perceive as our differences and merely tolerate others, where is the love? Our humanity depends upon a shift in the way we perceive and relate to others, as well as ourselves. Why is it threatening when someone disagrees with our choices?
Ultimately, focusing on our differences only creates separation from each other. Without connection there is no unity; thus, love disappears. Have we forgotten our connection to one another? In the words of Mother Teresa, "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." We are all human beings, regardless of our age, gender, race, sexual preference, culture, religion, or beliefs. Our commonalities far outweigh our differences. We are all undergoing the universal experience of being human; we understand what it feels like to love and care for others, to feel the pain of loss and to hope for a bright and safe future for our children. When we lose our ability to love our neighbor as we love ourselves we create an invisible wall around our hearts that serves as a fortress to our humanity and compassion.
Underneath our feelings of righteousness, judgment, criticism, intolerance, superiority and, yes, even tolerance, lies the energy of fear. Consider the eloquent words from Arthur Japin's Lucia's Eyes:
"If you accept others as equals, you embrace them unconditionally, now and forever. But if you let them know that you tolerate them, you suggest in the same breath that they are actually an inconvenience, like a nagging pain or an unpleasant odor you are willing to disregard."
Accepting everyone as equals is the key. The truth is we are all equals and therefore deserve to be recognized as such by the law and each other. The legalizing of gay marriage is an example of intolerance by some, mere tolerance by others and acceptance by many. Each of us is worthy of the same rights and compassion as the next person, regardless of our race, religion, gender or sexual preference. This isn't a gay issue; this is a human rights issue. The question isn't: "Should we legalize gay marriage?" The question we should be asking is: "Why haven't we legalized gay marriage?" This issue brings forth deeper questions about our humanity and the honoring of one another; it is about equality, acceptance and love.
We all share an unlimited capacity for love and kindness, which is demonstrated globally every day. The examples of people dedicating their lives to help others are endless, but unfortunately the examples of intolerance are endless, too. The energy in which we choose to align ourselves will determine our future personally and collectively. But only the energy of love expands our hearts and accepts all people, uniting us as global brothers and sisters, in one extended family.
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