A rumination on tolerance

21 Apr

We are now in London, after a long flight and a moment of impatience waiting for the arrival of errant luggage (thanks, Chicago O’Hare!), and happily soaking up culture as fast as we can.  But before I forget the circumstances that led to these ruminations on the question of tolerance, I want to recount an incident that happened as we were en route from Mexico to Europe. In between these points, we had to spend one night at a Marriott Hotel in Pasadena–our own home town! As we checked in to the hotel, I noticed that the pool area was overflowing with lots of yelling, splashing children and some very fat people who just didn’t seem like the kind of folks who would be paying for rooms at a hotel with a concierge.

Our room overlooked this pool, where the splashing and shouting continued well after dark and up to the moment at 10 p.m., when the pool area closed. When I went down in the lobby, the seats were filled with wet kids wrapped in towels.  At that point, I realized that the hotel was housing people who came from shelters or were waiting for Section 8 housing–in other words, the homeless.  My immediate relatively-well-off-white person’s response was to be somewhat irritated by their presence, to be pissed off that these people who were not my kind were able to enjoy the niceties of a middle-rung hotel while not paying what we had to pay.

And then I stopped myself: it was WRONG and unsympathetic to think like this! When I saw how happy the kids were–and they spent every waking hour in that pool, or so it seemed–and how ecstatic the very fat men were to sit in the hot-tub pool, it made me feel ashamed that I could be so heartless. They weren’t inconveniencing me, except that the pool area was now kind of off limits. I can’t deny that I had that first disgusted reaction–that emotion–but I thought it through to try and have a bit of sympathy for these folks, who–but for the grace of God or whatever–could have included myself.

These considerations, then, led me to contemplate how some people let their prejudices control them, because they just react to that first FEELING and don’t consider anything past that initial reaction.  All those people filled with fear and bile about “others” coming into their communities just can’t get past that limited emotional response. I don’t know if these kinds of reaction can be mitigated by education, or if some people are just wired differently so that they can’t allow themselves to be open to different ways of thinking, or can’t be sufficiently self-reflective to come to some insight about others. Can tolerance be taught?  I just don’t know. But it’s always a good wake-up call to be confronted with your own intolerance and prejudices, to gain a little bit of humility.  The most important thing: The children were happy.

2 Responses to “A rumination on tolerance”

  1. marcnewhouse April 24, 2017 at 3:57 pm #

    It’s so easy to construct that wall between us versus the homeless. One of the men in my AA group spent six years on the street, and it has been a revelation to speak with him. My current self-challenge is to look the homeless people in the eye, smile, and say hello. This because Paul (the formerly homeless man) said that was the worst part of the experience, even worse than being turned down when he asked for food!

    • esauboeck April 24, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

      Yep. One of the best experiences of AA is learning tolerance of all those different people you meet, the humbling realization that there but for the grace…go I.

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