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Picture the scene:

After five years of exhaustive research, you finally decide that you’re going to start eating vegetarian. You’re not a militant animal rights’ activist, you just think that it’s much healthier and better for your body to cut out things that moo, bleat, baah and squawk.

Let’s say you’re sitting there, in the school canteen, when someone enters the room who really believes that vegetarians are unnecessarily limiting themselves, and what they consume. I mean, how else are they really going to get all the B12 vits they need, if not from something that moos, bleats, baahs or squawks?

That’s a fair point perhaps.

But, does it then justify the ‘militant’ meat-eater marching up to the vegetarian, and berating them for their unnecessary and unhealthy restrictions on what they eat?

Would it justify the militant meat eater trying to slip a furtive slice of bacon in their vegemite-spread bap? Or telling them that they were being served vegetarian sausages, when really the sausages were totally meat?

What do you think?

Who do you think is being more intolerant and narrow-minded, in this example?

Now, let’s picture another scene. Let’s say a kid has a peanut allergy. You know, peanuts – those little brown things that so many people can still happily consume, and that would otherwise be a fairly nutritious and delicious part of a healthy diet.

But not for the kid with the peanut allergy. If that kid gets a whiff of a peanut, that could shove them head-long into a life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Let’s say another kid simply loves peanuts to bits. In fact, all they want to eat is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and no-one can get them to eat anything else.

So now, which kid’s ‘intolerance’ is meant to take preference, here?

The kid with the allergy, who can’t tolerate being exposed to peanuts, or the kid who can’t tolerate eating anything except peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?

If the canteen decides to get rid of all the peanuts and ban them from the school, does that make them ‘intolerant’? Or, if the school decides that it’s not fair on the other students to have to miss out on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, is their decision to tolerate peanuts on the premises correct?

Let’s make it sharper: let’s say that the peanut allergy parents are mamash pushing for peanut-free premises as they are hugely worried about what could happen to their kid if, God forbid, he should eat one, or even just inhale the scent of a peanut.

Let’s say, the peanut butter and jelly parents are mamash pushing back against this decision – because otherwise, what is their kid going to eat?! – and they write an angry letter decrying the school’s intolerance of peanut eaters.

They are right to say the school isn’t tolerating peanut eaters, aren’t they?

That makes the school intolerant, doesn’t it?

And that intolerance must be bad, mustn’t it? Because isn’t all intolerance awful?

What if the school says they won’t tolerate bad language. Or smoking. Or drug abuse. Or bullying.

That’s shockingly intolerant, isn’t it?! That’s limiting the pupils freedom of expression, isn’t it? And that must be bad and narrow-minded and un-egalitarian.

Mustn’t it?

Let’s take another example.

Let’s say, a man wants to come to work wearing just his underpants. Let’s say, he works in a very mixed, regular office where there is a fair sprinkling of old and young, male and female coworkers.

And this man wants to sit at his desk wearing just his underpants.

Should that be tolerated, by the management?

Let’s say, he has a serious case of trauma from when he was forced to wear a bright orange bell-bottomed paisley print trouser-suit (with a belt) when he was a kid in the 70s. And now, he just doesn’t like wearing clothes very much. Now, he just feels way more comfortable only wearing his underpants in public.

What would the preachers of tolerance proclaim about this case?

What would be the right thing to do? To let this man wear his skimpy undies in the office because he has serious trauma from orange flares, or to put the well-being of the rest of his office-workers first, who really don’t want to see ‘Mr Jones’ sitting there wearing just his grey pair of flannels?

Now, let’s start to switch these examples up, to make them a little bit more religious. Instead of a vegetarian, let’s have someone who eats strictly kosher badatz, or someone who doesn’t eat gebrochts on Pesach. Is it right to tolerate their strange ideas of food? Would it be right to try to force them to eat not-kosher food if they came to visit you in your home? Would it be right for them to try ‘force’ their kosher food on you, when you come to visit them?

Let’s say, instead of a peanut-free school canteen, we’re talking about a hospital in Israel. Is it ‘intolerant’ to stop hospital patients from eating chametz on Pesach if they want to, or is it ‘intolerant’ to the patients who do keep Pesach, to render the hospital totally chametzdik?

Whose distress is going to be greater? Whose life is going to be more seriously affected?

Now, let’s switch the man in his grey undies for a woman in a sheer, see-thru blouse and miniskirt. She likes to dress like that, she’s liberated, it makes her feel happy to come to the office in skirts so short, she may as well just be sitting there in her underwear.

So what, she’s making other people feel uncomfortable? So what, she’s going against the accepted dress code for the public space that is an office? Surely, its intolerant to expect her to wear more clothes?

What if you have a woman who insists on shaking hands with men, and a man who really doesn’t want to shake hands with the woman. Is he being ‘intolerant’? What if it’s the other way around? What if you have a man who just loves giving big, over-friendly hugs to his female colleagues. What if you’re a woman, and you just don’t want that guy touching you (or even, breathing the same air.)

Are you being intolerant?

What if, you can’t stand anyone shaking your hand, or kissing your cheek, because you have a strong aversion to chemical fragrances and perfumes, and even the smallest whiff of hand soap, or aftershave or deodorant makes you throw up? Now is it OK, for you to intolerantly refuse to shake hands, or kiss cheeks, with another person?

For once, I’m not going to try to wrap this post up in some neat conclusions. The point I’m trying to make here is that we’re all different, we all have different likes and dislikes, different needs, different beliefs, different priorities. It’s like the proverbial two old people in shul, one of whom wants the window open because he’s boiling, and the other who wants it shut, because he’s freezing.

Who’s right, in that example? Who’s wrong? Which one is being intolerant in the wrong way, and which one is being intolerant in the right way?

If you’re also feeling hot, you’ll go off on the guy who’s trying to close the window. If you’re also feeling cold, you’ll explode at the guy who’s trying to open it. Your view of what’s happening will be colored by your own experience, and your own preferences.

Unless God set down a clear commandment saying Thou shalt not open the window on a day where it’s below zero, all you have to go on is your own common-sense and empathy for where the other person might be coming from. If these things come to the fore, then you’ll sit down with Mr Hot and Mr Cold and try to find a way where both people’s preferences can be accommodated as much as possible, without making one of them ‘the baddie’.

Sadly, in the politically-correct mess we currently find ourselves in, God long since stopped being an arbiter of right-or-wrong for most people; common-sense is at an all-time low, and empathy – where you really make an effort to at least understand the other person’s point of view, and to at least concede that you might not be 100% correct about everything, all the time – is similarly missing from most people’s equations.

And man, are we feeling the lack.

There’s a Talmudic dictum which states:

He who is kind to the cruel ends up being cruel to the kind.

I’d like to reframe it somewhat, as follows:

He who is tolerant of the intolerant ends up being intolerant of the tolerant.

And if you look around, you’ll see that playing out all around us.

 

[1] I have no idea why anyone would actually want to eat this, but so many people from America like it, there must be more to it than meets the eye.