Why I hate Tolerance
Everyone keeps telling me that I am an intolerant person. Within the past month, everyone from my dad, my friends, the cashier in PriceMart, to the people I work with, have all had something to say about my supposed inability to be tolerant. Even my mom.
“Mom people say I am becoming an intolerant @sshole”
“Really? Becoming? I think that ship sail long time son.”
This really confused me. I never saw myself as being an intolerant person, and I spent the weekend alone, in my hammock, quietly contemplating this supposed flaw in my personality, and how I could possibly repair it. On Saturday night at about 9 p.m., just after I finished my third beer, I came to a profound realization. I am not intolerant. I am just surrounded by crazy people.
Take, for example, my father. A man who I remember used to stay home to watch “Star Trek”, while my mother took my brother and I to church. A man who once told me that I should forget about university, and become a pastor “because it have real money in that, and it all tax free”. This man has now found God. He claims it was the result of a divine revelation. When I tell him that I find it really coincidental that this “divine revelation” seems to have come right after he survived a severe heart attack, he becomes belligerent.
“God save my life Darryn!”
“Really Dad, I guess those doctors and nurses and specialists were just in there liming.”
“God was working through them Darryn. God came down from heaven and work through them to save me.”
“Well that’s good Dad. You shouldn’t pay them then. I mean people shouldn’t go to medical school. What’s the point? We just need to put people near sick people, and let God work through them.”
“You can’t respect anything eh. You too smart for everybody. This is what is happen when people feel they too smart, they become intolerant!”
“Oh, I intolerant? What you think tolerance is? Just listening and staying quiet?”
“I not saying you have to believe in what I believe in. Just have more tolerance and respect that this is what I believe.”
“Fine Dad. I’ll be tolerant. Tell me more then. What did God look like?”
“Well he big and bright and he does glow…like…this creature in this episode of ‘Star Trek’ where they thought they found god…just like that!”
You see, this is what most Trinidadians and Tobagonians think tolerance is about. Respecting somebody else’s point of view, no matter how stupid it is.
So, my father thinks God, who resembles an alien from “Star Trek”, personally saved his life. What’s the harm in that, right?
But really, what is separating my father, who thinks God chose him to live, to someone who believes that God has chosen them to strap a bomb to themselves and kill other people? Or those who think God wants homosexuals to be put to death, girls not to go to school, or be covered up, or have their genitalia mutilated, or even send him ten percent of your salary via your preacher each month? Recently, there have been suggestions by “Hindu leaders” that underage, Hindu girls should be married, if they get pregnant. Apparently, this is the “Hindu way”. How are we supposed to respond to this?
“Well ok, if your religion says that you should force underage girls to be married, then fine; to each his own I guess.”
For Trinis, tolerance isn’t an idea to believe in, or a watchword to live by. It’s something you “do”. And the way you “do tolerance”…is by doing nothing at all. There is no need to think. All ideas are equal. Just accept it. It’s not your responsibility.
The problem in thinking like this is that it allows a much more sinister word to slowly creep into your brain – apathy.
Take for example my friend Roger. Roger was extremely incensed by the Government’s decision to implement a state of emergency (SOE) last year. He would call me at all hours of the day to vent about how unjust the SOE was. And he was especially riled up at the thought of the police entering people’s homes without a warrant, thinking that they would single out poor communities. Roger said he was going to “do something drastic”. It sounded ominous. But I knew Roger, and I knew how his brain worked.
This is Rogers’s brain on apathy…
Roger: “I going and defy these curfew orders, and show the Government that they can’t suppress the people.”
Apathy: “Really? That means you’ll get arrested and go to jail. You want to go to jail?”
Roger: “So! Gandhi went to jail, Martin Luther King went to jail, and Steve Biko went to jail!”
Apathy: “Yeah, but they didn’t get bull in jail. You want to get bull in jail? Because that’s what will happen. Even if you didn’t get bull in jail. People will say, ‘Allyuh know Roger make jail. I sure he get bull.’”
Roger: “I have a new idea. I don’t need to defy the curfew orders. I am part of the young generation. I should do something on Facebook. You know? Use the new media.” Apathy: “Now yuh talking! What you goin’ to do?”
Roger: “Well I can write an essay explaining how I feel and why the SOE is wrong.”
Apathy: “Nah people don’t like to read plenty things on Facebook. What you should do is something more powerful and attention grabbing, like posting quotes from ‘Animal Farm’ in your status. It will send a strong message, that you have read it, and you know who George Orwell is.”
Roger wasn’t alone. During the SOE, there was widespread discontent, but it was all done on Facebook. For my generation, posting angry comments on Facebook has become the new “going and block the road and set tyres on fire”. Except it can be done from the comfort of your bed.
Trini’s think the word “apathy” means that you’re “indifferent” to things. Not really. Apathy really means that “you’re indifferent, but you’ve managed to convince yourself that you’re not”. Apathy likes to reassure us that: “It’s not that you don’t care enough to do anything about it; it’s just that you are really tolerant – and that’s good, so doh hot yuh head”.
There was a reason why Martin Luther King called his movement “civil disobedience”. He was breaking laws. He was defying authority. He refused to tolerate segregation. He refused to tolerate the status quo. Like Gandhi, before him, and Mandela, after, King had no tolerance for bad ideas.
My friend Roger, like most Trinis, loves to invoke the language of great revolutionary leaders in a time of crisis. But we also love to invoke apathy’s way of acting: “I won’t stand for this, and it’s not that I don’t care enough to do anything about it, it’s just that I am really tolerant, so I not going to hot my head yes.”
In our warped view of tolerance, the more you can tolerate a bad idea, the more virtuous you are.
From bad roads, and bad traffic, to high food prices, bad government, Ian Alleyne, lining up to leave Pricemart after you have paid, poor service, poor sanitation, corruption, TV preachers, paying 45 dollars for a cinema ticket, VVIP sections, CEPEP, the WICB…the list goes on…and on. The more we can display tolerance for these things by smiling and reciting the Desiderata, the more we pat ourselves on the back, saying what good pleasant and courageous people we are.
“Man I sit down in traffic for two hours yes!”
“Dread I pay 50 dollars for a pack of rice yes!”
“You know how long we doh have water, a whole week now yes!”
Tolerance is not about putting up with bad ideas. It’s about having the courage to kill them. People assume bad ideas automatically die a quick and natural death. That’s not true. Bad ideas are like that annoying Pennywise jingle you keep hearing and thinking it’s going to go away soon because it’s so awful. Then ten years pass, and you not only discover that the jingle is still playing on the radio, but you are now humming along to it.
So I want to propose a new definition of tolerance. A definition that I feel would help to remind us all what the true meaning of the word is, and the spirit in which we should use it. A definition that will allow us to keep apathy from sneaking in.
1. The ability to look injustice, bigotry and inequality straight in the eye and say “go f*ck yourself”.
Image credit: coolhunting.com