An Appreciation

I’m not a fan of tolerance.

No, wait – let me continue.

Tolerate: to allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.

I’ve often heard people talk about diversity, especially in school environments, in terms of “tolerance.” People talk about “teaching tolerance.” There’s a bumper sticker for it. This is something I’m glad I never learned during my high school education, because I think it’s the wrong word. What people are trying to do here is not wrong; I just don’t think they’re calling it the right thing.

Where I went, instead of tolerance for other cultures and beliefs – that is, instead of just allowing others to continue without interference (as if we had a right to interfere but decided not to); instead of mere forbearance – we learned appreciation.

Appreciate: To recognize the full worth of. To be grateful for. To understand (a situation) fully; recognize the full implications of. To rise in value or price.

When the holidays came… the holidays came. It wasn’t just Christmas, it was Hanukkah too. We knew when it was Ramadan, we knew when the Chinese New Year was. The dining hall was decorated; there were announcements at School Meeting; we learned the stories of other people’s cultures.

When National Coming Out Day came around, we knew that too. We were there for the first National Day of Silence; I still remember a girl in my Russian class who carried around a little whiteboard that day. We had a cross-dressing dance, and I was there, when I finally became brave enough.

This is what I want to teach. This is what I want my children to learn. I don’t want them to say “Ugh, here come those people. I guess I’ll tolerate them.”

I want my children to appreciate others. To recognize their worth, and to have their own worth grow because of it.

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About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on December 26, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. It sounds like you went to a really amazing high school; mine was NOTHING like that. I knew nothing of Ramadan, and I’m not sure anyone (gay or straight) noticed or observed National Coming Out Day or the National Day of Silence. I wish we had: it seems like your high school experience was all the richer for it. (Incidentally, did you go to a public or a private high school?)

    In graduate school, we generally preferred the term “respect” to “tolerance,” which has all the flaws you point out. (I think “appreciation” works, too, as you describe it.) The difference, as we spoke of it, is that “tolerance” is on someone else’s terms–usually The Majority’s terms–and has a whiff of noblesse oblige about it. “Respect” puts everything on a much more equal footing, without implying that one set of beliefs or traditions is better and others are just sort of allowed.

    • It is indeed a pretty cool place. It’s a boarding school.

      The “someone else’s terms” idea definitely fits with what I was talking about. I do think that most people who talk about tolerance have their hearts in the right place, but I know that nuance can creep in when you don’t want it to. (For instance, I’m not sure why the Democratic party ever agreed to call Republicans “The Right”.)

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