As ever, it is en vogue to preach tolerance to our peers. Just today, I was bombarded with e-mails urging me to join various political action groups and t-shirts with urgent messages about the Sudan and other venues of extreme injustice. I did, however, see a t-shirt I liked, namely, one with the popular Gandhi quote, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” It is because we are involved in grander and sexier endeavors that this sentiment sometimes slips through the cracks.
At Yale, like at many other institutions of higher education, we have a self-righteous fascination with the unjust and the intolerant. But while we are bombarded with messages urging us to “get involved” and “start caring,” we have lost the incentive to be tolerant on the most basic level — that is, to our fellow students and to those in our immediate community.
While it is honorable to be an activist for global change, it seems that neglect of our own community is detrimental to the pursuit of those grander causes. In simple terms, if you want to set a good example for converts to your cause, don’t go killing your own kind.
I am awed by the lack of consideration we have for our fellow students. We are intolerant of others, especially the not-so-publicized others. Sure, for the most part we tolerate different religious groups, ethnicities, sexual orientations etc. But perhaps we are not so accepting of different personal lives, appearances, body types, choices with food and alcohol — the list goes on.
Even within the past week, I have encountered what I call “grassroots intolerance” from otherwise rational and considerate people. At dinner recently, an environmentalist friend made scathing remarks about my desire to be vegan; an otherwise feminist friend commented disparagingly about the weight and attire of a passerby; my brother declared that he would “disown” me if I enlisted in the army; and at a bar, jokes were made about an order of seltzer water instead of alcohol.
Not only were the comments somewhat hypocritical, but they are a detriment to those who said them. Perhaps my brother has no idea that he benefits daily from the protection of a national military (which ironically has a base miles from his home). But my environmentalist and feminist friends would surely benefit by removing such remarks from their vocabularies. Who wants advice from a clearly unhealthy doctor? Or to be counseled by an unhinged psychologist? You get the point.
A fellow student put it best: “If you’re not a secular humanist at Yale, you’re labeled as some kind of backwater hick.” We seem to tolerate only those people who agree with our views. While many of these examples seem benign, it is not uncharacteristic of us (myself included) to make rash judgments of our peers. Even if the comments aren’t religious, ethnic or otherwise politically incorrect in nature, they remain intolerant, and they can undermine the greater effort whether it be for equality in marriage or equal pay for women in the workplace. It should be clear that whatever your cause, an eternally negative attitude toward your equal ultimately hurts the spirit and integrity of that cause. To better advance the noble and exciting ambitions for justice and tolerance, perhaps we should begin here at Yale by accepting and even embracing differences in our more immediate surroundings. If you want to be trusted and taken seriously, your idealism should permeate your daily life.
Melissa-Victoria King is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.