Herman: Encouraging – even putting up with – tolerance
28 / JUNIO / 2009
Ken Herman, AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Good morning, Austin. Please take your seats. Here’s today’s essay question. It will account for 50 percent of your final grade.
“Is it intolerant to ask someone to tolerate something their conscience or religion or family tells them is not to be tolerated?”
Who can be against tolerance? Tolerance seems like a quality that looks good on your curriculum vitae (which sounds like something treated with an ointment).
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Schieffer mentioned it in his recent campaign announcement, declaring we need a leader “who recognizes the importance of tolerance and civility to our society.”
You and I are not always tolerant. I, for example, am intolerant of people who don’t take their screaming kids out of a restaurant. You may be intolerant of people who don’t understand that the left lane is for passing.
And many of us also are intolerant of things that really matter. Does that make us bad people? And when it involves intolerance of other cultures, does that make us really, really bad people?
The recent legislative session gave us two fine examples of the tension that tolerance of other cultures can cause. You, being a good person and a reader of newspapers (tests have shown the latter will make you an even better — and better-looking — person), think it is important to be tolerant of other cultures.
See if any of this amends your thinking.
In March, several female state lawmakers met with women from El Paso’s Tigua tribe. Seems the women of the tribe are not allowed to vote in tribal council elections. And the Tigua women at the meeting said they are OK with it. It’s a cultural thing, they said.
Apparently they did a good job of presenting their case. The female lawmakers later said it was OK with them if the Tigua women do not get to vote for their elected tribal leaders.
Do you think it’s OK for a culture to deny women the right to vote? If you don’t think it’s OK, you are intolerant.
Later in the session, as lawmakers debated a bill increasing penalties for involvement with cockfights, a House member said the Legislature must keep in mind that cockfighting is a tradition among some Hispanics.
Do you think our lawmakers should take that into account when making law? That would be the respectful-of-other-cultures approach. But what about your feeling that gambling on bloody poultry fights might not be the most uplifting use of leisure time?
I think I just heard you slip a bit on the tolerance scale.
Here’s an international example to chew on, from President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.
“The burqa is not welcome on French territory,” Sarkozy said last week. “In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.”
Go ahead. Get your mother-in-law joke out of the way so we can move on to the multiple choice portion of today’s exam:
A. Intolerant of other cultures.
B. A brave defender of women’s rights.
Here’s another example. Remember in April 2005 when President George W. Bush held hands with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the Crawford ranch? Apparently, men holding hands, in the crown prince’s culture, is a sign of friendship. In Crawford’s culture, it’s a sign of creepiness.
I’m guessing Bush was instructed to tolerate it. God knows, we always want to be tolerant. But on the international front, it often seems nobody is much worried about being tolerant of our culture. Yes, I know there are some cultures that think we don’t have much of a culture.
We’ll probably never strike a happy balance on the tolerance question. Clearly, we are a far more tolerant culture — to a fault, some would say — than we once were. Sometimes we seem to be tolerant and inclusive to the point of silly.
We put Braille on drive-through ATMs. Let that one marinate a minute. I’m told that’s for sight-impaired people who take taxis to the ATM. Fine.
There’s an older gentleman in my family who, proud of the progress we have made, recalls a time when America was not as tolerant and welcoming as it is today.
When he was a young man, he recalled, he never heard this phone message: “Press one for Yiddish.”