Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tolerance is Still Other-ing

When I was a kid I didn't hear much about homosexuality. We had a friend, David, who was clearly different in a way that wasn't his fault. It wasn't until years later we found out he was queer. Then I moved to Toronto, living and studying Nursing in the gay district. Half the staff at our hospital was queer. (The elephant in the room was that our textbooks at the time declared homosexuality a mental illness.) We lived in residence and our caretaker, Rob, was a gay man. 

Life went on. Being gay was just a part of my neighbourhood. I enjoyed the fact that people like David had somewhere to go, where they could live happy lives, as small towns often rejected them. I got to know a bit about the culture.

But one day, something changed in me. I came across our caretaker crying in the 4th floor common room during a quiet hour. I asked what was wrong. He told me that his spouse had been rushed to Emergency late the night before. Sadly, the doctors could not save his partner's life. Rather than face the ride home, Rob came to the quiet familiarity of the common room to settle his emotions first. 

Until that moment I had 'other-ed' the gays around me. I didn't realize that was what I was doing. I liked them. Respected the work and grace and kindness I met all across the board. Nothing against anyone, live and let live. But until that moment, I never really saw them as a part of my human family. Rob's grief changed me.

That's the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Tolerance means we put up with something or someone with different characteristics or values than us. Kindly, perhaps. But there's still a 'me over here and them over there' vibe. That's other-ing. 

It took a moment of honest emotion for me to see I'd been thinking the same way. 

We don't need tolerance. We need inclusion. I remember a former President's wife calling poor people 'Those people,' other-ing them openly. A guy in a meeting last week talked about folks with brown skin in another city, openly racist without believing for a second he was. A potential client other-ed me when she asked what my religious beliefs were; she wanted to be sure she wasn't being sinful by asking me for a reading. 

Whether intentional or not, the very fact of other-ing separates us. When we 'other' people we are saying, 'These people are not like us.' Those on the receiving end naturally feel excluded, unloved and unwelcome.

Tolerance is not something to applaud. We can do better.