Today I’ve been hosting our NHS-inspired Twitter #12daysXmas project and it’s all been about tolerance. It’s not a word I’ve really given much time to before, but spending the day sourcing great songs, pieces of writing and other quotes that make us think about what it really means has sent my thoughts all over the place today. It’s also made me realise that I don’t actually like the word “tolerance” very much. It’s just not good enough to simply tolerate somebody, surely we should be accepting them, or even welcoming and celebrating them? To tolerate something implies to me that we’re merely putting up with it and we’d much rather not.
Tolerate is one of those words in a long continuum of words that span towards really scary stuff in the other direction. If we start with Love, then perhaps move onto Celebrate, then to Welcoming, Accepting and then tolerating them – surely this is just the bare basic minimum we can do, because to carry on down this continuum is when things start to feel uncomfortable? After tolerate we would perhaps have judge, then prejudice, then fear, dislike and hatred. Once we’ve moved past hatred we get to violence and killing, and I think we’ve seen far too much of that already this year.
Fear does seem to be a big one that holds us back from being tolerant. Some people seem to feel threatened by someone who doesn’t believe in exactly what they believe in or who behaves in a different way to the way they do. People also fear change which is really hard because change is the only one thing that we are guaranteed to face in the future – it’s the only absolutely predictable event that will happen over and over again in all of our lives. If people start believing in different things or start to behave in different ways, some people seem to feel that the whole fabric of society is going to change and crumble. Well, yes, of course it’s going to change, but change can be positive as well as negative. Thank goodness the fabric of our society has changed – I’m so pleased that I don’t live in a country where it is still acceptable to send small children up chimneys, or where women had no recognised status or worth.
Of course other people irritate us, that’s part of being a human being. Of course we have different beliefs and values – what on earth would we find to talk about if we didn’t? My other half has a deep-seated belief that his way of filling the dishwasher is best, whereas of course I know absolutely that mine is really. Mine is an art form, carefully balancing things on top of each other and turning all the cup handles around to fit in as many dirty dishes as it can possibly take. Malcolm thinks less is more and that with a half filled dishwasher things actually get cleaner better. I hate that that means half the plates are still piled up in the sink making the kitchen look untidy. Even if they don’t wash properly, we can always put them in a second time, but at least our guests won’t know how slovenly I really am.
Have we split up over it? No. Have we argued about it? No, not even that. We’ve laughed about it loads instead, and I’ve even come up with a methodology that totally fits with my slovenly demeanour – he is so keen to fill it his way that I mostly just let him carry on and do it! Win win all around.
Compromise – that’s another word that has to go into that continuum somewhere too – if instead of looking out for the differences between ourselves and others we instead look for the similarities, that’s where compromises can start from.
Yesterday I asked some online friends to share any posts with me on the theme of tolerance so that I could incorporate them into the project. Suddenly it wasn’t about dishwashers anymore. It was about children growing up and feeling less than or even apologetic for who they are, children who are shunned and mocked for what they are unable to do, and whole families who are made to feel that they simply aren’t good enough to mix with other people on a fair and equal basis. These are the special needs families, where there is a child with a disability, and something I know only too well myself. The intolerance is always there, maybe unspoken, maybe a suppressed sigh or an eye roll or a look that seems to scream out their not very well hidden thoughts of impatience, annoyance and even contempt.
Some people are wonderful, and go out of their way to make our families feel welcome, but sadly not everyone thinks along the same lines and we have a very long way to go before our children are fully tolerated never mind accepted,welcomed, embraced and celebrated. Meanwhile families like my own are far too often left on the periphery of society, shunned, pitied and marginalised by other families who don’t share our imperfections. Yes it hurts – and today I’ve shared some of the posts by talented writers within our special needs community, beautiful writing that conveys how parents of children like my own son, Toby, feel when casual unkindness happens over and over again.
Tolerance begins with each one of us, and in our thoughts and how we think about other people. Sometimes our faces carry our thoughts so efficiently that we don’t even have to speak a word to ensure that someone knows our disapproval, our contempt and our judgement. A look can be every bit as unkind as a verbalised and intended insult.
Tolerance means something so much bigger than the personal too – it can pitch country against country, creed against creed, political system against political system and people die in their thousands as a result. That level of collective intolerance is pernicious, but it still comes down to the belief system of each and every one of us. It’s the individual, it’s you and me, that allow collective intolerance and judgement to take hold and to take over.
I have been alive all day today, which is the most recent of several thousand days I’ve lived so far. Each one of those days has given me new experiences, brought me into contact with different people and things have happened which have made me think in certain ways. Every day I’ve gradually built up my very own, very personal, system of beliefs and values that are absolutely tailor made for me, built from everything that has happened to me and made me the person that I am today.
Your belief and value system has developed in exactly the same way, and it’s completely based around who you are and what’s happened to you in your life too. So I hope yours is very different to mine, because we each need a tailor made framework of our very own which will support us in living our lives authentically. That means I won’t always agree with you, or like what you’re doing, or want to do exactly the same things. And it’s that difference, that diversity, that makes life fun and gives us plenty to think about and to talk about. It’s what makes the world go around, and it’s what influences and inspires us to achieve ever greater things within our lives. If we can’t be at the very least tolerant of each other and our differences, we will never live full lives and be open enough to see what might be possible.
And what is possible? Well it’s all those words that are even better than tolerance – acceptance, embracing, welcoming, celebrating and love. Tolerance is the boundary line between fear and curiosity, open and closed minds, between love and hate and even between life and death. Tolerance is the very least we should be aiming for.
Are you on Facebook? If so, have you seen The Special Parent’s Handbook Page? It’s full of news, ideas, information, advice and support for families of special needs children.
WHIS Ambassador Learning Disability, Autism and Families
HSJ Top 50 Inspirational Women in Healthcare 2014
“The Special Parent’s Handbook” #1 Amazon Best Seller
To buy your copy of “The Special Parent’s Handbook please click on the link to the Amazon page below