Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tolerance vs. Acceptance

In my younger days, I worked in two different businesses that were owned or managed by gay men. In one instance I did not even know the manager's personal preferences until after I left the job. His personal life had no bearing on the way he chose to do his job. In the other case, the gay lifestyle was what it was all about and every holiday, gathering, meeting or discussion was just another opportunity to push the gay lifestyle on a group that while tolerant, saw no reason to inject sexuality into the running of a design firm business. That was thirty years ago when gay rights were in their early days. Some of the hedonism I saw in those days before AIDS was shocking, deliberately so. Many of the behaviors viewed in the office were provocative, so much so that had they been attempted by someone not gay, the person would have been written up at the very least or possibly fired outright.

You cannot legislate acceptance. You can legislate tolerance. I tolerate those who don't share my beliefs. As long as they don't try to impose them on me, what do I care? My mother is all hot and bothered about a second, or perhaps it's third, cousin who converted to Mormonism and is going back to rebaptize dead relatives. That's her thing. My mother is outraged, but my belief is that while it is odd and probably not particularly respectful, if you don't believe in another faith, whatever they do doesn't affect you in any way. So if voodoo practicioners try to put the Evil Eye on me, that's fine. But I don't believe in them and therefore I don't believe what they try to do will impact my life in any one way.

Tolerance is another word for civility. Manners are passe to the modern crowd, but in earlier days manners were defined as the grease that made society function smoothly. While it doesn't matter much which fork you use or whether your servants have the proper color of livery (I used to love reading my grandmothers copy of Emily Post's first edition book on ettiquette) it does matter that you don't bring unwarranted attention to yourself by making a scene. Divas are common in our culture. There are those who seem to crave the limelight and grab it by making everyone unnecessarily comfortable. Let me say right here that I am old school-I am not happy seeing heterosexual couples grope each other in public, but for some reason there are those of various genders who think it is their God give right to make the rest of us collectively gag. It's not the act itself, but the lack of respect for everyone else. It's selfishness on a public scale.

Having said all of this, as a long time conservative, I have no problem with coworkers who are gay, with ministers who are lesbian or with same sex couples married or not. My daughter is getting married in a few months. The guy she is marrying is great. But I know some of our invited guests will be put off by the minister, an out of the closet lesbian who is one of my daughter's best friends, and by several of her male college friends who happen to be gay. She was a dance major, she didn't know many straight guys. That's the way it goes. Although I don't accept their lifestyle, for her sake I will tolerate them and make them as welcome as any other guest. But see, that's the difference, I am choosing to tolerate their behavior as most well mannered decent people would do. What I hope is that they don't demand I accept their lifestyles because while they are adults and free to choose, I can't do that.

Isn't it time we get beyond the idea that everyone MUST blindly accept everyone else no matter what? Do I have to accept the racist guy down the street? Do I have to accept the snarkly clerk at the grocery store? Do I have to accept every criminal just because someone says so? Or can I choose to tolerate them without having to surrender my will?

No comments: