Tolerance - MetroFamily Magazine
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Tolerance

Reading Time: 4 minutes 

A few years ago, the American Film Institute named the character Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird as the greatest movie hero of the last hundred years. If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, you may recall that Atticus is appointed to defend a black man accused of rape in the Southern town of Macomb, Alabama in 1935. Atticus’s decision to go ahead with the defense doesn’t sit well with some of his relatives, his neighbors, or his children’s school friends. Throughout the story, the family tolerantly endures the bigotry sparked by Atticus’s commitment to doing the right thing.

Tolerance comes from the Latin verb tolerare, meaning “to bear.” Tolerance recognizes that everyone grows at his or her own pace and demonstrates different levels of maturity.

The seeds of tolerance are best sown early. In her book Teaching Tolerance, Sara Bullard reports that the way children are treated by family members can have a profound impact on how they behave as adults. “The people who express the greatest intolerance had upbringings that robbed them of a safe and certain bond of love between themselves and their families.” 

In Nature
Turtles have never been known for their speed, but their thick shells provide a safe retreat from many forms of danger. Tightly shut inside its shell, a turtle can tolerate a great deal of abuse. But a turtle can’t hide inside its shell forever. When temperatures rise and the sun beats down, the turtle may feel as if it is going to bake inside its shell. When this happens, the turtle is forced to venture out and face the world beyond itself. In many situations, we find ourselves with people who are not like us. If we come out of our shell and see life from another’s perspective, tolerance grows. Often we find that we are more alike than we first realized.

I Will Statements

  • I will not confuse what is right with what is popular.
  • I will expect the same of myself as I expect of others.
  • I will look for ways to help others mature.
  • I will accept my own “unchangeables” and those of others.
  • I will listen before I form an opinion.

Teachable Moments
Some social scientists hypothesize that racism springs from the mental processes we all use to get through each day. In processing information, our minds automatically categorize things based on previous experience: is this like what I know, or is it different? The problem arises when people become convinced that the differences (race, language, political affiliation, social standing) outweigh the similarities (human, feels emotion, has dreams). By recognizing and truly accepting our own uniqueness, we realize that everyone is different from us. Encourage your children to celebrate the qualities that make each person special.

Very often, words can be hurtful. Sometimes it is not so much what is said as the way it is said. A friend of mine recalls his daughter becoming sorely offended when her older brother called her an individual. His hateful tone convinced her there was no way it could be a compliment. To raise your children’s awareness of the effect they have on other people, ask them, “What did you do today that made someone feel good?” and “Did you do anything today that made someone feel bad?” Talk about the feelings raised and the actions taken.

Like other character traits, tolerance is something children model. If you display tolerance with those in your family, the people you encounter in the store, and those you pass on the highway, your children will be more likely to be tolerant as well.

The Metro area is truly a melting pot of the diversity of America. Chances are there is someone at work, school, or church whose ethnic background is different from your own. Sharing a family meal with this acquaintance can put a friendly face on the world beyond your home.

Many calendars have information for holidays around the globe. The next time you see one of these dates, take the time to look it up with your family. You might not feel compelled to celebrate Benito Juarez’s birthday on March 21, but then again, it might be a good excuse to bake a cake.

Finally, since love and security are excellent building blocks of tolerance, find a way to spend an extra hour laughing with and loving your children this month—whether it is a picnic in the backyard or a rousing round of Monopoly, it will be time well spent.

Resources

  • For young children: The familiar tale of the ugly duckling illustrates the agony of being different. The young cygnet tries so hard to fit in with the ducks that he doesn’t recognize his own unique characteristics as beautiful. Timmy’s New Friend by Andreas Dierssen uses animal characters to explore relationship dynamics concluding that having friends who are different can come in handy.
  • For older children: Candy Shop by Jan Wahl confronts racial prejudice from a child’s point of view. In this story, Daniel is confused when his favorite candy store, owned by an Asian immigrant, is vandalized. Daniel’s display of friendship and support is an excellent model of tolerance.
  • For teens: To Kill a Mockingbird was made into a movie in 1962, but its golden rule message of treating folks the way you would want to be treated is still as important today as it was 40 years ago. 
  • For adults: Teaching Tolerance: Raising Open-Minded, Empathetic Children by Sara Bullard offers tremendous insight on the subject of tolerance. The book includes journaling exercises to help parents examine their own beliefs and offers suggestions for family activities promoting tolerance.

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