I'd like to tell you a story.
I was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Now, the South is not known as a bastion of tolerance. But that's where my father wound up for graduate school. A native New Yorker and philosophy student, he was not exactly prepared to become a southern boy. But Memphis state offered him a scholarship, and away he went.
When I was very young, my father received a disturbing piece of mail. Not the first, but probably the most vicious, the pamphlet wanted to know if he'd accepted Jesus into his heart. It said that he was going to hell if he didn't believe. It warned of the fire and brimstone that was coming. It was a piece of religious zealotry that can only come from a wickedly intolerant mind.
- And we are Jewish.
My dad, not very good at keeping quiet (much like his son) went to work. He wrote a guest editorial in the local paper decrying the lack of tolerance. He went so far as to say:
The first step to any true religion is tolerance of other views.What happened next is a little fuzzy. My parents don't like to talk about it. But the people of Memphis didn't have much use for an uppity Jew and we moved away not long after, leaving the crank phone calls and threats behind.
- But never far behind.
When I was a teenager in Southern California I didn't understand this story. I thought that tolerance was weakness, that opinions made character, that I was right and everyone else was wrong.
But as I get older I begin to notice my dad's words coming out of my mouth and I start to long for my father's tolerance. My dad is a man who can have a conversation with anyone. He defends views he doesn't agree with. He's a card carrying member of the ACLU.
And people flock to him.
People flock to him because he's open and caring and non-judgmental. And, in a word, tolerant.
In this age of flame wars and indecent legislation, it's a quality best not forgotten.