International Day for Tolerance


Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the International Day for Tolerance established by the United Nations. The concept of tolerance is a curious one. If you say you tolerate something, it implies you are not enthusiastic in your support of it. So why would the United Nations pick the word “tolerance”? Why not acceptance or love or some other equally touchy-feely word? Could it be because they are realists, and don’t really believe in a goal in which all people in all nations could someday love or even accept one another? History, and even more specifically recent history, would support this more cynical viewpoint, especially as the backlash from the events in Paris, Beiruit, Iraq, and Syria have led to calls from governors in the United States to close their doors to Syrian refugees.

If you look at the word tolerance in its broader form, however, nuances emerge that perhaps could shed light on the choice of the the word.  In mechanical terms, it could be described in regards to the strength/ability of an object to carry a certain weight, or an object made to fit within certain proscribed standards and specifications. Increased accuracy of measurement and quality of instruments leads to improved tolerance.  A carpenter would choose a finely tuned saw with a razor-sharp edge to saw a piece of lumber into 2 pieces that would have the finest tolerance, meaning barely any difference between the two edges when placed next to one another.  The ability to “meet up” these two pieces which would allow for the best match would be one in which the raw edges have been honed to the point that the pieces can mesh into 1 stronger object.

Words have power, as we all know from playground taunts to criticisms from loved ones.  That power comes from the ability to evoke strong emotions.  Take the two words “refugee” and “migrant”.  Refugee has connotations of seeking sanctuary from harm, while migrants evokes movement for gain.  When we look at others, meaning those we consider different from ourselves, the words we use to describe them allows us to either shorten the distance between us and them, or bring them closer.  My family and I were refugees from Vietnam and stayed in refugee camps in the Philippines and Guam awaiting acceptance into this country, then became citizens through the naturalization process. Looking back at media reports regarding Vietnamese refugees who fled the war in Vietnam, the word migrant is not used.  So why the difference?  What is the difference between one group of people fleeing violence, bloodshed, terror and persecution and another?  Even the word refugee, however, implies that they are in need, and in fact, they are. But the fact also exists that some of the greatest contributors to this country have been at one time or another refugees.

This video highlights a few of these individuals including Albert Einstein:

http://www.attn.com/stories/3122/famous-refugees?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=viralvideoposttext&utm_campaign=videos

Yes, but, what about all the refugees who have performed acts of terrorism, the governors would argue?  How do we protect our citizens from carrying out their hidden agendas? Let’s take a look at some of these terrifying refugees, and postulate how much damage they can do to our country. Perhaps by studying them closely, we can figure out what their hidden agenda is. (all images attributed to Swedish photographer and twice-winner of the World Press Photo awards Magnus Wennman, from his photo project Where the Children Sleep).

http://www.buzzfeed.com/lynzybilling/where-syrian-children-sleep#.rhJ3ZV3jG

What happened to this that adorns a symbol of our nation’s compassion?

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

If we look at the situation in regards to the Syrian refugees, using this broader concept of tolerance, it begins to make more sense.  We need the ability to carry the weight of knowledge in order to have an increased tolerance. The increased accuracy of measurement comes with our ability to look closely at the facts as they stand without the clouding that comes from fear, suspicion or anger, measuring them against the standards of truth.  The quality of our instruments, the minds and hearts by which make these measured decisions, should also be held to the highest standards and ideals upon which this country was founded.  We must polish our rough edges, to the point we can see that there is barely any difference between our two sides. We are human beings on both sides, and if we can increase our tolerance, we can again become the nation that our forefathers envisioned, one in which “the hungry, the poor, and the oppressed” can find sanctuary.

There is no easy solution to this.  We are a nation that already has hungry, poor and oppressed within our own borders. I want to feel safe in my own country from terrorist attacks. I’m not advocating for throwing open the doors to potential security threats. I don’t pretend to have answers for the multitude of problems that our world faces.  I don’t consider myself a political person, and certainly not one seeking controversy or conflict.  But when we as a people can look at small children in need, paint them with the broad brush of fear, and turn away from them, we are not living the ideals of tolerance.  Perhaps I am wrong to seek these ideals, but I know no other way of achieving tolerance than to view one another as human beings, remembering that we were all children once. As a mother, I cannot see pictures of suffering children without thinking of my own, and my heart breaks for these helpless innocents.

Today I am grateful to live in a country that I still believe is the greatest country in the world, with all its flaws and complexities inherent to a nation that was based on free will and independent thought.  I am thankful I have the freedom to debate, and to question our leadership, and that I was allowed to become a citizen of this great nation. I owe all that I have and am to becoming an American citizen, and hope that I am doing my part every day to be worthy of these blessings.

More history on the Internationl Day for Tolerance: http://www.un.org/en/events/toleranceday/

Flight


Embed from Getty Images

“I’m not leaving without my mother.”  Each time I hear those words in this story, the hairs on my arms stand up.  It is the story of the day we left Vietnam.  My brother says we are doomed to lead less interesting lives then our parents.  I think instead we are blessed. Recognizing these blessings is part of this burning away of all that drags us into the mire of living the unexamined life.

I am grateful today not to live in a country where we are in fear of bombs blowing up our homes, where we have to decide what country we should flee to, or worry about never seeing family members again.  This was what passed for normal for my mother and father in Saigon in 1975.  My parents worked for the American military at Tan Son Nhut airbase.  It was a dangerous position to be in, a liability if the wrong side won the war, a risk that could put my parents, and my mother’s family in danger for supporting the cause of freedom from Communism.

The fall of Saigon is officially April 30, 1975. A few days prior, my father came to work and was told to return to Tan Son Nhut Airport with only his immediate family–my mother and me, and one suitcase within a few hours time to insure a safe departure from Saigon.  My grandmother and my mother’s 2 young sisters had come to stay in my mother’s apartment in Saigon after they could not board a boat in Vung Tau to leave the country.  No one knew what would happen next, but my mother insisted that she would not leave Vietnam without her mother.  And so, all of us made it onto that airplane through the grace of God and sheer force of will.

Because of this, I have always been surrounded by strong women–women who have survived war, cancer, and heartbreak.  Because of this, I have always had the example of how to be a good mother, sister, daughter, and wife.  Because of this, I have seen the saving power of grace and forgiveness. For all of these things, I am grateful for a mother who knows how to bend with change, who has been broken and made whole again, and is still beautiful.  She is the woman who has always told me that she gave me wings so that I could fly.

My mother leading the way.

My mother leading the way.

As we start this 40 day journey into leaving behind fear, I’m joining others across the country who are keeping gratitude journals, and invite you to do the same.  The benefits of counting our blessings, so to speak, are manifold:  increased feelings of happiness, better relationships, more energy. . .The trick lies in making this a habit, of course.  Let’s hope that 40 days is enough.

Check out these other blogs for help with your gratitude journal:

http://www.aholyexperience.com/joy-dares/

http://momastery.com/blog/2014/03/06/gratitude-experiment/

And check out this research on forming habits (because I’m still a nerd):

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/01/02/how-long-it-takes-to-form-a-new-habit/