Sunday, September 27, 2015

What's In a Word?

Tolerance.  Shouldn't we expect more?

There are particular words that are used to help educate individuals regarding social issues. These words are intended to promote thought and impact positive change. For many I am sure the intended purpose was accomplished.  However, I am unsure if those people were the target audience.  I often wonder if the words we choose help or hinder what we hope to accomplish.

Many years ago, as a new teacher, I was bothered by the word tolerance.  I always felt it had a negative connotation.  When I hear "tolerate" I immediately think that this is going to be something unpleasant and I will just have to get through it--endure it.

Tolerance is defined firstly as the capacity to endure pain or hardship, and secondly as sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own (Merriam-Webster). Perhaps because I have been an educator most of my life it is all about the set-up, and this is not a good one.

I have not seen much from the "tolerance movement" over the past three decades that has changed my mind.  I continue to observe individuals and/or groups screaming at one another in the name of tolerance or intolerance, depending on your side.  Most recent high profile issues: Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter, Clerk Kim Davis and Same Sex Marriage,  and student Lila Perry and the Hillsboro Community.   On any given day we hear that there are wars taking place.  There is a war on women, a war on black men, a war on Christians, just to name a few.

People using this verbiage have either never actually been in a war or are intentionally using rhetoric in order to inflame emotions.  Just like "tolerance" war has a negative connotation.  Yes, it can indicate a campaign, struggle, movement, clash, etc., however by choosing specific words we determine, perhaps manipulate, the likely intellectual or emotional response we will get.

If our goal as a country and society is to understand and value each other we must realize that the words we use will enhance or hinder that goal.  We all have intellectual and emotional responses to what we see and hear.  For most the emotional response comes first and if it is strong enough genuine intellectual engagement may never follow.  Emotional responses are important and very much needed.  This is how we demonstrate we care and what makes us stand up when we see and injustice or help when we see someone in need.  I hope that we use are words to promote reconciliation and not divisiveness, to promote understanding and not take sides.

One thing I do know is that to value is better than to tolerate. We value what and who we know. Enrich your life, take a chance, step out of your comfort zone, and make a point to talk to people. Learn from them and let them learn from you.  It is much easier to value others when you know their story.

We all have stories to tell.  We all have stories that need to be heard.