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Tolerance Shmolerance

Why can't we all just get along?


Though you wouldn't know it to hear people talk today, "discrimination" isn't a curse word. There's nothing wrong with being a discriminating person. This doesn't mean that one is racist; it means that one has taste. Intelligent people are always discriminating about their friends and acquaintances. That's just one of the side effects of being intelligent. Tolerance, on the other hand, is not a nice word at all. What does it mean if you decide to "tolerate" someone else? It means that you don't like them but you'll put up with them for the moment.

Somehow the semantics of the moment have gotten the two mixed up. Everyone is insisting that we nix "discrimination" and head toward "tolerance." Which explains why I've been forced, along with so many of you, no doubt, to attend diversity training at the workplace. At my workplace, the training was actually compulsory. This means that not only did I have to attend the training, but I had to attend it with a bunch of people who didn't want to be there any more than I did.

When I receive a memo telling me that diversity training is required for everyone, the first thing I want to know is exactly what I'm expected to glean from it. What am I supposed to be able to do after I'm trained? Practice kindness and understanding with everyone I meet in the world?

Ironically, it was a diversity training activity that caused me to realize the stupidity inherent in that kind of expectation. In this activity, "labels" were taped to the participants' backs, and then everyone wandered around the room reading each other's labels and speaking to each other as if we were what we were labeled. So during the activity I avoided a child molester and asked a sports celebrity for her autograph. Most of the labels were similar to those examples (we also had rapists, murderers, thieves, generals and the President). Then, thrown in with all of the rest, we had the label "gay." At the end of the activity, we discussed how it had made us all feel very sad and hated if we were child molesters, or very happy and important if we were basketball players.

At the end of the day, I was left with questions. Am I supposed to feel sympathy for a left-out child molester? Is that the message of diversity: accept everyone, no matter how destructive they are? Or is the message of diversity training that we should equate gays with rapists and child molesters?

Perhaps the people who designed the training had good intentions, but I could hardly think of a more divisive activity. By including the gay and lesbian labels along with the child molester, rapist, thug and crime lord labels, the instructors were reinforcing negative stereotypes about gay people. So much for diversity.

If you can't see the difference between a serial rapist (a person who harms other people) and a gay person (who in all likelihood merely participates in sex between consenting adults), then you don't need diversity training. You need morality training.

Of course, diversity training has a tendency to focus on race, but I think it fails us there as well. The point that is reiterated continuously is that we should be aware of differences so that we can be sensitive to other cultures. This doesn't even make sense; in fact, it accentuates differences and makes many people feel as though they're walking on eggshells around people from other backgrounds. Real connections will never be made between people who are nervous and tentative around each other.

Diversity, at least as it's presented in these training sessions, is also exclusive. There was mention of being respectful of Islam, but not of being respectful to atheists -- this despite the fact that, as I've pointed out before, you're extremely unlikely to see atheist suicide bombers.

In fact, diversity training is ultimately a paradox. We must analyze each other to the extent that we study and know by heart all of our differences, but we must treat each other in exactly the same way. I realize that many people really believe in diversity training and are trying to do the right thing, but I can promise you that this isn't the way to make our society more accepting.

By forcing people into some model of diversity, and bullying them into "tolerating" each other, we set the stage for them to hate each other even more. Plain and simple, people don't like being told what to do. They also don't like being told that they're completely wrong in their beliefs. So when they're told that they're ignoramuses to hate other people, and told to like everyone without discrimination, they resist. And diversity training ends up accomplishing the opposite of its intent. Sure, we may achieve superficial tolerance, but after going through diversity training, there's going to be hate boiling just beneath the surface.

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