Tolerance is a virtue that is sadly lacking in our culture today. Intolerance wears many different faces. Most of us would like to believe that we are appropriately tolerant and respectful of all people and all social circumstances. Unfortunately, our lack of tolerance emerges in very subtle and infectious ways.
Genuine tolerance demands that we respect people of every race, language, color, sexual orientation and social circumstance. In simple terms, it means respecting people of color whether they are documented or undocumented. It means respecting people s sexual orientation-whether they are heterosexual, bisexual, gay or transgendered. It means respecting people who are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim or Wiccan. It demands that we respect people's right to believe in God or not, to be an atheist, an agnostic or a theist.
Tolerance demands that we do not judge by externals. It shouldn't matter what color someone's hair is, the clothes they wear or the tattoos and body piercings they support. We should respect another's political perspectives, even if they are diametrically opposed to our own.
The cold-blooded murder of the abortion doctor in Kansas City was scandalous and a sad day in America. Whether one is pro-life or pro-choice, blatantly murdering someone because he disagrees with your religious perspectives is morally unacceptable, no matter what your religion. The religious community was rather silent on condemning that horrific act of violence and intolerance.
Ethnic humor is another face of intolerance and disrespect. Especially in our climate right now, any kind of ethnic humor will only add salt to the wounds that are still bleeding. It is especially troubling, when those in leadership and power use ethnic humor and don't see how offensive it can be, especially to people of color. As a large community, we are still recovering from the senseless murder of a young Ecuadorian from Patchogue. His death was caused by a group of teenagers who lacked tolerance and respect for people of color.
It is very troubling to talk with students who question whether or not the Holocaust really occurred as most history books describe it. It is equally disturbing to see young men support a swastika on their legs and arms with no regard that it could be highly offensive to members of the Jewish community.
Continuously, I hear parents caution their children from dating people who have an abundance of tattoos. Many of the comments that are expressed are downright rude and disrespectful and have no relationship to the person in question. Body piercings are also controversial for some. Unfortunately, parents will make inappropriate comments about those who support body piercings.
In recent months, the national news has covered a wide range of stories on the heroin epidemic that is ravaging our nation. In our own county, thanks to exceptional police-work, a number of major heroin busts have occurred. What I find amazing is that heroin is no longer restricted to marginal members of our community. People of every age and walk of life unfortunately, are being seduced into using this lethal drug.
Anyone that has a friend or a family member that has had an addiction problem knows that the disease of addiction is totally consuming. Too many families that have not battled this disease are quick to make judgments about others who've gotten drawn in. Most of those judgments are unfair and inaccurate. People battling addiction should not be treated as lepers. They are battling a serious disease.
When one thinks of a homeless person, one often creates a mental image of someone who's not clean, who smells and who is not willing to work and support him or her self. That stereotypical description of a homeless person is far from the truth and characterizes less than a fraction of a percent of those who are homeless among us.
Many of the homeless in our county are Vietnam veterans. A growing number of them suffer from various mental illnesses. They also suffer from a wide range of addictions. Most of the homeless people I've met, want to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. However, because of the variety of disabilities there are not appropriate resources to help these homeless people get back on their feet. Too often, the system sets people up for failure.
Probably the most disturbing example of intolerance is in regard to a young adult in his early 20s. CJ comes from a good family. His father is Puerto Rican and his mother is Irish from Ireland. He is the oldest of three children. He is very hard-working, but stubborn. He has maintained a full-time job since high school. Like many of his generation, he is struggling to find his career path.
He started dating a young woman slightly younger than himself. She comes from a family of privilege. Each time he comes to her house, he is polite and a real gentleman. When it comes to dinner, he always brings a bottle of wine that her father likes.
One night after dinner, they were sitting outside and her parents got into a heated discussion. There were totally unaware that they were sitting outside their window. The parents were discussing CJ. They were not pleased with his Spanish surname, and the fact that he was not a full-time college student. They bluntly said that their daughter could do better. The father accused the young man of being incapable of ever becoming anything.
After overhearing that conversation, CJ left. He was devastated. He could not believe that parents in this day and age could be so superficial, shallow and intolerant.
We are not born intolerant. It is a behavior we learn and not a good one!