UNDERSTANDING VERSUS TOLERANCE

I just watched a presentation by the CEO of AT&T (Randall Stevenson) about racial tension. Take a look at it yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThO74-oFt_Q

He begins by listing statistics about the violence in our society around racial, gender, and religious differences and the obvious responses of ‘crack down and control’ or legitimate (certainly understandable) anger. Most people, he says, fall somewhere in between these two responses (which means they do nothing). But, he adds, if we were to have a secret ballot about what we feel and what we think we should do, he says, we might be surprised by the results.

To elaborate on this point he describes his own surprise at the response of his upper middle class longtime African American friend to the recent violence. I was ‘stunned’, he says, when he heard his friend’s stories about his experiences as a Black person, from his childhood to the present day. This surprise turned to embarrassment that they had never even discussed these things despite knowing each for years and spending so much time in each other’s homes. If close friends can fail to understand each other’s worlds, he concludes, what chance do others have of doing this? And how and why did this happen, he wonders: was it because it is ‘impolite’ to bring up such things, these secrets that everyone knows? Or is it simply too uncomfortable, too upsetting, too frightening? Or is there more going on?

The immediate point is that we can no longer continue like this, for to do so will mean more death and destruction until our entire society falls apart. We have to start to talk to each other; we have no choice anymore. We have to try to understand each other because our inability or unwillingness to do so is killing us.

Nor can we leave it to the leaders of the country. They can’t do this without us. Or, perhaps more importantly, they won’t do it unless we begin.

Stevenson says we need understanding of each other and not simply tolerance. Tolerance is for cowards; understanding takes courage: the courage to step into the discomfort that honest conversation inevitably brings. We have to face the anger and frustration of our neighbors who are oppressed because of our cowardly tolerance, which allows us – for example – to respond to ‘black lives matter’ with statements like ‘but all lives matter,’ and then do nothing.

It seems to me that what we all have to do as a people is to step into the discomfort of our differences and begin to understand each other. We can only address our shared challenges in this way: together, united by mutual understanding. We don’t even have to agree with each other; that would be impossible but also uncreative. For we also need our differences because they are the actual source of our creativity when they are held together in the right way.

Stevenson elicited tremendous applause when he said that this Dialogue would have to start with him probably because we all know that it has to start with each of us, personally and professionally.

This Dialogue, he concludes, begins with ‘why’ not ‘what’: ‘Why’ do you think, feel, act this way? When we can get to some mutual understanding around this ‘why’, the ‘what’ will follow more easily. And the decisions that emerge will be more effective, because they will have been born out of our emerging shared understanding.

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5 Responses to UNDERSTANDING VERSUS TOLERANCE

  1. Lawrence Cross says:

    Danny this is an excellent and penetrating blog. I think we need institutional help to overcome our fear and inertia. Military service is a good example, but so few volunteer that it cannot work. A national service corps required of all Americans, for two years, could provide a structured melting pot that could ease the way and mitigate the uninformed ignorance so rampant today.

    Best, Larry

    • Danny Martin says:

      You’re probably right, Larry. And it’s a great idea. But we’ll have to start with ourselves as I don’t see this new administration creating any such thing. I’m going to post – re-post in fact – a piece on a simple Vigil of hope and light that we can all do during this season of light. Now if I could get the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis to sponsor it….Any thoughts?

  2. kathleen says:

    Thank you Danny for helping us move beyond skin, faith, gender deep.

  3. Erik says:

    Dear Danny,

    Good you brought Randall Stevenson to your last blog. He is right on mark when he asks the question “Why does all this misery happen?”

    Although I can’t give a satisfactory, global answer to the question “Why?”, I feel that we are addicted to the need to stay in our “comfort zone”. Leaving this illusory safe heaven creates “Angst”. Working on our representations of the comfort zone might be a beginning to find answers to the “Why” question.

    One of the most preoccupying aspect of the comfort zone is the fact that people become more and more afraid to mix with people they categorize as “non-self”. By “non-self” I mean that they judge people with other habits, color of skin, etc. as threatening.

    Again, Randall Stevenson: “Tolerance is for cowards. Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet, not making waves.” In my humble opinion, Randall Stevenson gives an extraordinary definition of what “staying in one’s comfort zone” means.

    So, let’s try to speak up respectfully and accept to venture into the “cold” outside our comfort zone to meet “others” in a deep and open way.

    Erik

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