Nor Any Manner of -ITES

A few years ago, a good friend of mine proclaimed from the pulpit during Sacrament meeting that tolerance was one of her least favorite words in the English language.  "Tolerance" she said, "is not enough to fulfill our covenants with the Lord."  Needless to say, I developed a girl crush (it's the female form of bromance) right then and there.

Those words came rushing back to me the other day, as I stood in the Apple store in Salt Lake City replacing my broken iPhone.  The store representative had taken my recently toileted (yes, that's an adjectival verb) phone and was off doing his thing, so I was left standing there with nothing to do for a few minutes.  Something at the front of the store caught my eye, so I walked forward to take a look, but before I even took three or four steps, I was caught up in a scene that was taking place just outside the store's large, shiny facade.  I stood there, looking out from inside the very epitome of wealth and luxury at a homeless person meekly asking for change.

He wasn't intrusive or aggressive.  He didn't even have a sign.  Just a cup and ragged clothing, certainly not enough to keep the wind from cutting him to the core on that gusty winter night.  And, as I watched, perhaps two dozen people walked briskly by, most avoiding eye contact.  None were visibly rude, but each just walked by pretending not to see him in the first place.  I knew what they were doing because I have done it myself.

In fact, I had probably done the same thing when walking into the store.

In that moment, my heart ached.  I looked at that man–that brother–with renewed eyes.  I am not going to tell you what I did next, because it's not important to what I'm trying to say here.  But, here's what I learned:  Tolerance is not enough.

Each of us walking past that brother looked away, pretending not to see him–an act that was probably seen as polite in our subconscious minds.  Either overtly or not, we likely thought of him as a nuisance and we tolerated him by not thinking to ourselves about how he got to the place in which he was.  In short, we endured his presence.  Perhaps more importantly, each of us tolerated this disparity in human experience with little or no thought.

Recently, I watched a TEDtalk by Krista Tippett from The Charter for Compassion in which she hopes to have us reclaim compassion through making it more accessible.  In this talk, she addresses the idea of tolerance powerfully:
When this country first encountered genuine diversity, in the 1960's, we adopted tolerance as the core civic virtue with which we would approach that.  Now, the word 'tolerance,' if you would look at it in the dictionary, connotes allowing, indulging and enduring.  In the medical context that it comes from, it is about testing the limits of thriving in an unfavorable environment.  Tolerance is not really a lived virtue, it's more of a cerebral kind of ascent.  And it's too cerebral to animate guts and heart and behavior when the going gets rough...and the going is pretty rough right now.  I think that without perhaps being able to name it, we are collectively experiencing that we have come as far as we can with tolerance as our only guiding virtue.
I would say that as Latter-day Saints who have made very specific covenants with the Lord to love one another and to mourn with those who mourn (not to mention consecration), the above quote is even more important, even more condemning.

Since that night at the Apple store, I have thought much about tolerance, about how I have not done enough in the way of fulfilling my covenants in this regard.  Tolerance, I think, is a big issue for Latter-day Saints...and one of which we are not necessarily on the winning side.  We do a lot of good but, here, on this issue, I believe there is ground to be won.

I have thought often, of how that man must have had such a greater need to tolerate me and others like me in ignoring him; how greater of a need there must have been for him to turn the blind eye to my arrogance and my pride.  That's the irony with tolerance; those who proclaim to be tolerating really are those who need to be endured by others.

How different would our actions be, I wonder, if tolerance–the word and the idea–were to be rooted out from our ranks.  What would take its place?  Is it possible that there would be a greater emphasis on and energy toward true love?  Would our rhetoric change?  What about the private thoughts we think that nobody else knows?

One last question:  Did Christ ever tolerate anyone?


jmurphy said...

Lauren, I love this post. We must constantly challenge ourselves beyond the boundaries of tolerance (weak) to a stronger ACTIVE compassion. I saw a lecture by Robert Eggar who bills himself as a nonprofit provocateur. One of his main points was CHANGE not CHARITY. john murphy

What is ITES?

Lauren Kay said...

Hi John! Thanks for reading! I will definitely have to check out Robert Eggar's work, it sounds amazing!

As far as -ites, I'm afraid it's a Mormon reference. There's a verse in The Book of Mormon that talks about how all these different peoples stopped worrying about their differences and they ceased to be Lamanites or Nephites, "nor any manner of -ites," and the people were one.

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