Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Are We Becoming an Intolerant World?

“This year, Teaching Tolerance teamed up with the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding to bring educators a webinar series called Religious Diversity in the Classroom…Participants asked some great questions during and after Fostering a Culture of Respect, and we’d like to respond to a few we think are relevant to many educators. In this blog, we’ll address this question: How can I coach students to respond to others with empathy and respect?
1. ‘Find out more.’
2. ‘Be aware of the pitfalls of easy comparisons.’
 3. ‘Avoid generalized or simplified statements.’
4. ‘See religious and nonreligious traditions as diverse and dynamic.’
5. ‘Be honest about the limits of our understanding.’”
“Help Students Respond With Empathy and Respect”, Submitted by Sara Wicht on October 15, 2014. Posted on: Teaching Tolerance, A project of the Southern Poverty Law Center,

The whole article, the above is an excerpt from, gives me hope for the future of our young people.  You see, I worry about the generations behind me given the direction of our culture and our world.  There is an increase in bullying, intolerance, and misunderstanding between all generations.  Many people in our present culture, for a variety of reasons, are becoming less tolerant, patient, and compassionate with one another.

I am concerned about the tech savvy generations because they are so formed by it.  NPR recently featured a report on people who spend so much time on Facebook that they become addicted to it.  The way you find out if you are addicted to Facebook is by trying to go four days without using it.  Can you do this without discomfort or stress?  Increasing numbers can’t. 

Our culture teaches that people should get what they want now—no waiting, no patience.  Another NPR (yes, I listen to NPR regularly) report shared that people who are too into their tech tend to have trouble being patient and compassionate with people face to face.  They can be patient with people they are texting, instant messaging, etc. because they can cut them some slack, heck they might be multitasking just like everyone else.  But face-to-face, a person who communicates primarily through IMs and texting can see the other person is not doing something else and concludes that the person should be giving all of their attention, and immediate responses in a face-to-face communication or perhaps.  Patience, compassion, or consideration for the other person are not part of the interaction.

In addition to tech, there is increased polarization in our country.  A recent article in the Chicago Tribune (Washington Bureau by David Lauter on 10/22/2014) reports that people are choosing to only listen to people who are similar to them.  If you love Fox News, you are probably a political conservative, and you only hang with people who are political conservatives.  Increasing numbers of people are un-friending people who are different from them and increasing numbers are only listening to news that supports their views.  So why is this a problem? With polarization comes more prejudice, misunderstanding, and an unwillingness to work with someone who is different from you.  “Compromise” becomes a bad word because it means giving in to a different group.  Finding out more, being aware of pitfalls and easy comparisons, avoiding generalizations or simplified statements, seeing religious and nonreligious traditions as diverse and dynamic, and being honest about the limits of our understanding are much less likely to happen.  Why find out more, if you are getting your opinions from a “trusted source.”  Why be aware of the pitfalls of easy comparisons, when everything is black or white, liberal and conservative, gay or straight, Christian or non-Christian?  How can we avoid generalizations or simplified statements when that is all we are being fed?  

My concern for our culture, our country, and even our world, is that the combination of a lack of empathy, compassion and patience combined with the increased polarization, points us in a direction that will result in less getting accomplished in government, work, and even socially with more conflict due to lack of a willingness to work together.  Like any muscle empathy, compassion, and patience grow stronger with regular use.  I worry that today’s lack of willingness will become tomorrow’s lack of ability due to simple atrophy.  Atrophy-apathy-will cause us to become a less humane society.

I am concerned, yet I am also hopeful because there are groups trying to teach people how to dialogue with empathy and patience.  But there is plenty of work for all of us as we seek to foster a culture of respect.  Being willing to engage with people who are different from us is a great first step.  Supporting efforts like Teaching Tolerance is another.  Remember: “You may be one, but still you are one.  You cannot do everything, but still you can do something.  And because you cannot do everything, do not refuse to do the something that you can do.”  (adapted from an affirmation written by Edward Everett Hale)  We each must do the something we can do to foster empathy, compassion, and tolerance in our world.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder whether the issue is that most people are concrete thinkers, somewhere around early junior high operations, and are not abstract thinkers. We do know that very young children are emotionally responsive and empathic in their response to others, especially to those who are expressing emotions of distress. Later on, black and white thinkers, seem to lose that ability to identify with others and follow the 'rules" instead. People who can think of two or three or more situations at once is able to put himself in another's place and see things from that perspective. This is really an argument for general education and the development of the person toward the ideal or potential. Once I can see you point of view, I can be more empathic, compassionate, and tolerant.