Monday, March 23, 2015

A Cure for Intolerance

Globe in Hands

We live in an age of intolerance and extremism.

Intolerance is an infectious social disease. It has always been prevalent and is usually spread by fear and misunderstanding. It can infect any kind of group and most any individual. Humorist Mark Twain noticed it in the religious communities of his daytime. He once said that he built a cage and put a cat and a dog in it. After a while they learned to get along. Then he added a bird, a goat and a pig. After some adjustments they, too, got along. Then he added a Baptist, a Presbyterian and a Catholic. Soon there was nothing left alive in the cage.

The disease of intolerance is not communicated only in religious groups. I’ve seen it infect racial groups, economic groups and even whole nations (where it is often cleverly disguised as patriotism). Intolerance always fences people out. It creates one group we call US. And the rest we call THEM.

But intolerance can be cured. Let me give an example. An undated letter to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. can be found in the archives of The King Center. It was written by a certain Jefferson Poland who spoke about his grandfather. Here is an excerpt of the letter and King’s reply:

Dear Rev. King:
     This is something I think you will want to know.
     A few weeks ago a man in Panama City, Florida, one Ross Mullin, sent you a poem which criticized prejudice.
     This man was my grandfather. He had been against Jews and Negroes almost all his life. When I had gotten thrown in jail for sit-ins, he had been shocked and angered. Finally, after some 60-odd years of hate, he grew to the point where he wrote you that poem. I had not had time to write him of my pride and joy before I got a telegram telling me he is dead….

Dr. King replied:
Dear Mr. Poland,
     This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of recent date. Your story was indeed moving. It is encouraging to know that it is possible to grow and change after a long heritage of prejudice. Certainly your participation contributed to this growth and understanding on the part of your grandfather….

His grandfather had been infected with the disease of intolerance. But his grandson showed him a different way and, to his credit, he was cured. As Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

There is a cure for intolerance. It requires learning a different way. A better way. The cure for intolerance is to recognize a fundamental truth about humanity: there is no US and THEM. The construct of US and THEM is entirely artificial. It is not real. There is only WE. One world. One people. One family. Only WE.

We can cure the disease of intolerance. We must do it if the world is to survive.

No us. No them.

Just we.

-- Steve Goodier

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