I grew up in a diverse city, and a lot of the kids I went to school with were either immigrants or first-generation Canadians. It was a pretty mixed bag – my group of friends growing up looked like a mini United Nations. My best friends came from Greece, Egypt, China, India, Jamaica, Japan and Iran.
Given the diversity of the population, there was a lot of talk in school about tolerance. Tolerating other cultures. Tolerating other religions. Tolerating people who didn’t look like you or eat the same food or who had a different accent. And this always rubbed me the wrong way. I never really gave it a lot of thought, but I always hated that word, and hated having those conversations. Not because they were boring. But because they felt…useless. Uninspiring. “Yes! Let’s tolerate each other!” Like, really. Is that the best we could do?
In my first week of university, I went to a mandatory frosh event that included the usual talk on diversity and inclusiveness. Except that the rad chick who gave this talk totally changed the game for me. She said, “I’m sick of hearing people talk about tolerance. I don’t want tolerance. I want celebration.”
She nailed it. Why have we been teaching tolerance all these years, when we could have been teaching celebration? What do we tolerate? Bank lineups. Traffic jams. Slow internet connections. These are things to be tolerated. Why are we lumping the humans we share the planet with into the same category as traffic jams? Why are we teaching kids that we need to put up with people who are different than us the same way we put up with long checkout lines? How do we teach kids about love, justice, inclusion and equity when the foundation for the lesson is tolerance?
What if we celebrated those who are different, instead of simply tolerating them? What if we looked at someone who doesn’t look like we look, eat like we eat, pray like we pray, or love like we love, and we got excited about it, instead of putting up with it? What if instead of enduring it, we engaged with it?
To me, tolerance looks something like this:
“Huh. So this is your holiday? Fine. Whatever. What are you eating? That’s weird. Never seen that before. It smells kinda funky. But fine. You can eat what you want, I guess. I don’t know anything about why you wear those clothes, or eat that food, or celebrate that holiday, or love that person, but fine. I guess it’s your right. I’ll be over here. Let me know when it’s over.”
To me, celebration looks something like this:
“Wow! So amazing! Show me! Teach me! I want to know all about this! How did it start? Where did it come from? What does it mean to you? Can I do it to? What does it taste like? Can I try it? Those clothes are so interesting – is there any cultural significance to that? How can I participate? I’d love to try something new. I’d love to learn something new.”
Tolerating people is really setting the bar so low, humans. We can do so much better. We can love so much better.