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#Tolerance Means Taking a Few Steps Back to Move Forward

Updated: Apr 8

Laura Lynch, Undergraduate, TMD Wayne State

From the moment I walked into my cushy kindergarten classroom, I gained fundamental insight into the meaning and practice of tolerance. Looking up at the brightly colored walls, among posters chalk-full of forgettable, sing-songy phrases about manners, I was first introduced to “The Golden Rule”. Though the name suggests something highly-esteemed, the notion of “treating others how others as you wish to be treated” is something seemingly forgotten by the time we learn and soon after employ our first vulgar words. In fact, Americans today live in a society that’s educational system creates and instills a worldview that sets us up for intolerance. Just as we learn tolerance through schooling, we learn intolerance.

Tolerance, the practice of treating others how you wish to be treated despite their differences, requires an individual to give everyone’s views the same respect as your own. The choice to act with respect and patient understanding opens the door to a diversity of dialogue that ultimately strengthens our society as a whole and cultivates the potential for love. Yet, Americans aren’t taught that as we move up the ranks in our schooling. In fact, the way we’re taught history almost always vices us into looking at situations in terms of “us” and “them”, with ourselves taking the position of moral superiority. An example of this pattern lies in how Americans are taught history. We spend many years learning about what the US did, why the US did it, our prosperity, and moral goodness. Little to no time is allocated to learning about others and their value, which has the latent effect of teaching us that there’s no need to inquire about the rest of the world and its functioning because we already have the best answers here. This understanding can easily be carried into social issues within the United States as well, when families and communities teach children that hatred toward and the isolation of individuals that are different is acceptable because they’re somehow inferior.

Change on a societal scale in America requires a reformation of the educational system that’s based on a recognition of our inherent connection to one another as humans, teaches the merits of diversity by fostering an acceptance of differences in race, sexual-orientation, religion, and perspective, and encourages inquiry and mutual understanding. This is no meager task, but I believe the first step toward such reform can start with individuals. Many of us have understood that acting with tolerance has been an individual choice since our first days of kindergarten, but we must renew our commitment to this despite the ease of slipping into clutches of hate. By taking a few steps back, or even going a few years back in our education, we can foster a new understanding of the world around us. With this intentional decision and an investment in the practice of tolerance, we can melt barriers and open the door to a more peaceful and mutually-beneficial society forged on the commitment to respect and equality.


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