Monday, 25 March 2013

Rising Above

I often raise the subject of tolerance because...tis a tricky one. We like to think of ourselves as tolerant, but we are also aware that tolerance is not the ultimate attitude. It's often simply the best we can do. But if we have any values at all, there are things we won't tolerate, and in fact that's how it should be. For example, tolerating cruelty makes you an enabler. If you stand by and watch a person taunting somebody else, or an animal, and you say nothing, do nothing, when you could, and you allow it to happen, then you may as well be joining in.

Tolerance is not meant for that. Yet I have been criticized for being intolerant of the intolerant. It's a ruse they use to try to get back at you for criticizing them. Word games are often used by unpleasant people.

Which doesn't mean one always needs to join in any argument they witness. If two people, evenly matched in  years and intellect, are having a bit of a ding-dong, I frequently leave them to it. Tom and Michael get into it quite a lot. I feel it's actually good for them, it reminds me of two kittens practising their fighting skills on one another. It would be different if one was repeatedly and effectively bullying the other (yes, even in words), but it's a very even match. What I do there is tolerate the noise. There is a time limit, however, and I will tell them to shut up or take it elsewhere if it goes on too long.

If I did intervene, I would mess up their dynamics, because usually it's not long before they are getting along just fine again.

Peacemaking in general usually works better by not taking sides, and in fact two people arguing can often be calmed simply by a having a third presence who is avoiding it.

A friend was talking yesterday about taking the option of walking away rather than getting into an argument with a known irascible person, and in particular of the complication of being seen to be rude for walking away. This is no different to the accusations of being intolerant of the intolerant. It is a 100% "blame the victim" scenario, and it simply doesn't wash.

Another example. My husband has an old school friend who has taken to posting racist "memes" on Facebook. I am told he isn't really a racist, he's just frustrated by the immigration situation in England, which is definitely out of control. But one must take care with the issue. There is a numbers problem, and that is not in question. A small island has finite space and resources. The existing population is probably about as many people as it can manage, new arrivals create a strain. Nevertheless if the objections are aimed at a specific sub-group of new arrivals, then it is still racism.

I have seen this here. I am an immigrant. I've listened to people complain about immigrants to Canada, and I say "Er hem, I'm one". To which they reply "Oh well that's different". You bet it is. I'm from the right part of Europe.

So I know exactly what they are saying, and it's rare for it to be anything to do with numbers. It's to do with difference.

The question then, is do I stand by and watch, or do I speak out? It's not as easy as it sounds. There is a duty for ethical people to point out injustice. But there is still a time and a place for it. Getting into an argument is futile here. Finding it on my Facebook feed is not tolerable. Removing the man from my contacts could be offensive. So I just unchecked "show in news feed". Problem solved. I chose to walk away this time.

If the post had been from a friend of my own, I may have instigated a discussion. But I have nothing invested in any friendship with this person. I can rise above.

As we go through our lives, there will be many things we don't like, don't approve of, don't understand. We still have choices as to how we deal with it. Getting angry every time is not necessary. Getting even definitely isn't. Speaking our minds is absolutely a choice, and a lot of things are in play. These decisions are one at a time, each situation on its merits. It is our decision too, nobody else's.

I choose to rise above, increasingly. When I choose to speak, I then choose to do in such a way that I'm likely to be heard, without personal attacks or sarcasm. These are my choices, and they work for me.


  1. Rising above, yup. And not taking the bait. Walking away is usually the best decision when one is in "Business Mode", because telling someone they are a cranky ass b*tch while at a public event is very much bad form. *wink*

    1. There is even a delicious satisfaction in having taken the high road.

  2. I have some difficulty with rising above; my preferred action is a smack upside the head but, apparently, this is frowned upon outside of a schoolyard environment. Although a bunch of pushpins and a photo can be quite a help toward alleviating the stress...