Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Superwoman VS...Tolerance?

We hear a lot about tolerance in our society. I sometimes agree with the "liberal" views of this word. I think we should be as fair and equal as possible. I think we should respect other people even if they are different from us in some way. I believe hatred should never be part of our lives. Unfortunately, "tolerance" has become as ugly and dangerous as "prejudice". Tolerance has come to mean "anyone can do anything and no one can say anything negative about it. If you disagree you are a bad person. " Let me give you an example of how dangerous blanket tolerance can be.

When I was in college, I worked as a cashier in a grocery store in Orem, Utah. I really loved this job. I was able to meet a lot of  wonderful people. As a cashier, you get to see snapshots of people's lives without them even realizing it. I love to "people watch" anyway so this job was ideal for someone like me.

As content as I was to simply observer the customers, my manager was sometimes frustrated with my lack of suspicion. He seemed to see shoplifters and con artists everywhere. He even caught a few people right in front of me! He would calmly ask the teenager standing on the other side of my counter what else she was taking home that day. I was always surprised when she opened her backpack to reveal an assortment of haircare products and junk food.

Despite his seemingly cynical attitude towards our customers, I still enjoyed my job. I did not see villains and thieves, I saw generosity, frustration, and even heartache. I didn't pry. I just did my job and counted my blessings.

One day, a man came into our store in a long, thin white robe and a little white cap. He looked like he had stepped out of the Bible. He was dirty and had a scraggly beard. My boss followed him through the whole store, not even attempting to be casual. I was annoyed by his obvious prejudice just because the man was a little different. After a few minutes, the man came to my register and bought an apple. He smelled AWFUL!!! I felt an immediate aversion to him. I wanted him out of our store as quickly as possible. I was surprised by my reaction and chastised myself for being so judgmental. Even so, when the man left, I felt a flood of relief. It felt like the sun coming out again.

This brief encounter bothered me. I began to wonder if I was really as accepting and open-minded as I thought I was. Here was a man who was a little strange and obviously poor and how had I reacted to him? With patience and love and understanding? No. I was disgusted and repelled. I saw myself a little differently after that. Maybe I was not the person I thought I was.

Although I didn't think about it all the time, I did reflect on this experience from time to time and question what kind of person I really was. I felt a little disappointed in myself...until I saw this man again. It was about 7 years later. He was on the news. I learned that his name was Brian David Mitchell. He had been arrested for kidnapping a little girl named Elizabeth Smart and holding her captive for 9 months. I knew him the moment I saw him. It had taken years for me to learn that my reaction to this man had not been from a lack of Christ-like acceptance of others. It had been a warning from the Holy Ghost to stay away.

I was stunned by this revelation. Stunned is probably not even strong enough. I was again struggling with my encounter only this time I wondered how I had so easily dismissed the warning from the Holy Ghost. How had I not recognized it for what it was?

We have become a society that teaches each other that "bad" feelings are wrong. We put so much emphasis on making other people feel good that we sometimes put ourselves in danger. There was a conversation along these lines on an Oprah show once. A young woman was assaulted because she had pushed aside the feeling to get away from a man who was asking for her help. "I should have listened" she said "I knew something wasn't right and I ignored it for the sake of politeness." They went on to discuss how often that happens. I felt sad that we as a society have become so easily duped by the Adversary.

Many years ago someone told me that "light attracts light". I have come to know that this is true. There are many references to light in the scriptures. One of my favorites is in Doctrine and Covenants 50:23-24
"And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that recieveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day." Light is not only found in knowledge of God and acts of service but in people. Those who obey the commandments and are trying to follow God have light, no matter what their religion or nationality or race. Those who do not follow God do not have much light.
In recent years, I have tried to be more aware of how people make me feel. I have tried to recognize the warnings of the Spirit. I know that I have been blessed with the ability to discern good and evil, to recognize light or darkness. It is just a matter of honing that gift. I used to think that I had some deep, unconscious prejudices to certain ethnic groups. After all the people I have met from a wide range of nationalities and cultures, I know that isn't true.

I have encountered people from many walks of life who leave me feeling unsettled, disgusted, and even scared. Sometimes there is no obvious reason for the way they make me feel.  I have met many others from the same backgrounds who are very comfortable to be around. They make me feel happy and content, like meeting old friends. I used to think it was about personalitites. I don't think that any more.

I still struggle sometimes to know the source of my feelings. I think that is just part of life. But after my experience with Brian David Mitchell, I tend to err on the side of caution. I have been trying to teach my children this too. I want them to recognize the warnings of the Spirit. I try not to push them to develop relationships with people that make them uncomfortable. I don't want them to be afraid. I don't want them to be rude. I also don't want them to be hurt for the sake of manners. It is tricky. I don't have it figured our yet.

I have strong feelings about loving others and accepting people despite their faults. I believe that true followers of Christ should be careful about alienating their brothers and sisters with broad accusations and words of anger and hatred. Still, I cringe at the word tolerance, especially when it is used as a weapon against people with moral values. I hate what that word has become. Oops! Did I say hate?

1 comment:

Emily said...

Wow... I just linked to your blog from a random google ad and I have to say, I LOVED this post!!

I'm an LDS mom to 5 children under 5 and can really relate to your writing.

Thank you!!

Emily Frogley