We’re Born Tolerant, Then Something Happens

I’ve been sitting on this story for 15 or so years. Since there is never going to be a better time than now to tell It, here it is.

Grant was about 5 years old. He, Kim and I had gone to Atlanta for the weekend. We stayed downtown so we could get the full experience of the hustle and bustle of the city.

When we headed home on Sunday morning, we drove up Peachtree Street for a few miles instead of immediately getting on the interstate. It was a sunny, crisp cool morning. Not many people were out and about, as I recall.

We stopped at a traffic light, and I noticed a couple of joggers waiting to cross the intersection.

Since the man was black and the woman was white, I decided to conduct a social experiment on the young boy in the backseat.

“Grant, do you see those two people jogging together right there?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you see anything interesting about them?”

“Yeah.”

“And, what is that?”

“Well, he has on shorts and she has on long pants.”

Kim looked at me, raised her eyebrows and said, “The light’s green, Dr. Freud.”

I didn’t actually hear the Dr. Freud part, but if she didn’t say it out loud she was most certainly thinking it.

I thought I was going to have a teaching moment about tolerance, but he already had it figured out. Joggers. Big deal. I think dad’s losing it. What’s for lunch?

To make my point, all I had to do was keep my mouth shut for a change.

I truly believe any 5 year old would’ve answered that question the same way. We are born innocent with a clean slate, and it stays that way until the world starts drawing all over it.
Some of these influences are good, some are bad – and even the most harmless and indifferent ones make an impact on an impressionable mind.

With all the hate and intolerance dominating our national conversation, it would do us all some good to try seeing each other through the eyes of a 5 year old. The racial murders at a church in Charleston took Caitlyn Jenner off the front page. Then, the gay marriage ruling took the shooting off the front page until we saw pictures of Dylann Roof holding a rebel flag. Now, social pandemonium rages at a fever pitch over where the flag does and doesn’t belong.

People are even mad at retailers for not selling it anymore. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it difficult to believe that a typical person’s Walmart shopping list reads “milk, bread, weedeater string, hairspray, something for dinner, small jar of diced pimentos, and a rebel flag or two.” Still, though, everybody has taken a side and is ready to spew an opinion for all to hear.

We live in a complicated world. It’s hard to know who is being intolerant of whom, who is being offensive and who is being offended, and who is right and who is wrong.

I don’t know what the answers are, but it is painfully easy to see that the answer is never achieved by yelling louder than the person who believes just the opposite as you.

We will never live in a world where we are completely blind to intolerance. It started in the Garden of Eden, somehow reared its ugly head again after Noah, and thrives today on 24-hour news channels and the Internet.

We may never get there, but it sure does seem like we could easily get closer than we are now. We have a choice:

We can keep talking about why the couple on the sidewalk is interesting.

Or, we can keep our mouths shut for a change and never make it an issue to begin with.

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