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  • Writer's pictureMC Mendez

Intolerable Tolerance

I find the notion of "being oneself" fascinating. I've been trying to figure out who I am for quite some time. I also help others in their journey of self-discovery and each time I marvel at the diversity that characterizes us. I like difference. It calls out to me. I admire people who don't justify being who they are. But my current outlook on the subject might have remained very different had I not been straightened out by a colleague of mine over 20 years ago.

I was working in London at the time. I had just arrived from Devonshire. I had landed a job as a web producer in a great company. I worked closely with the Webmaster, a girl younger than me and particularly gifted. She taught me my trade, but that’s not why I would like to thank her.

After a few weeks in the job, she pulled me aside at one point and told me she was gay. I remember thinking to myself: "Why is she telling me this, it's none of my business." I actually couldn’t imagine myself having to disclose my sexual preferences and found her very brave to reveal this personal information. I hadn't known many gay people at the time and I had not given it that much thought until then, so I took this surge of confiding as a mark of trust.

Several months later, we got to know each other better from working together, and as we shared a sandwich on a bench in the sun during lunchtime, we started talking about her homosexuality. I asked her questions like "When did you know you were attracted to women?" », « How did your parents and those around you react? » etc… Some questions to which she answered honestly and with humour. Then almost to conclude, I said to her: "Well, at least now it’s great as it’s more tolerated” (Just writing the words makes my brain cringe!). And then, true to herself, with a gentleness and precision that characterized her so well, she replied: "But MC would you like to be tolerated? "

I must have taken a few minutes to realize the full extent of her response. Who on earth would like to be tolerated? ... How could I have been so blind to the meaning of that word, to its limitations, to its claim of power over the others, to its total lack of freedom to be?

Here are actually some definitions of the verb “tolerate”:

- "Let something happen or exist that we have the right or the possibility of preventing"

- "Put up with something we find disagreeable or unfair, with patience"

To use my words from the time, "That's great, right !? "

I understood at that precise moment that what is, is, whether or not one or a thousand people tolerate it. To accept a human being is certainly not to "tolerate" him/her. Since then, that word hurts my ears.

You can try to question a person's identity, but that doesn't change who they really are. Would we question a tree because it grows differently from another? A plant because it doesn't have the exact same shape as another? No, they are still considered to be a tree and a plant. And even if we did question their differences, they would still be as they are! Isn't that grand?

After the wave of shame that first came over me, at having been so obtuse in my outlook, a wave of laughter followed. There I was, sitting on that bench, and it was like I had left the world for a moment. I had just discovered a fabulous secret that I wanted to reveal to the world. I had this word tolerance written in front of my eyes and it looked completely ridiculous to me.

This fabulous experience allowed me to understand that tolerance is an illusion (with a virtuous connotation) of power over one's neighbour! Whether or not I tolerate a foreigner, a gay, a transsexual, a bi, a punk, or any person that is different from me (pretty much everyone), it doesn't change the fact that they exist and that they are who they are! I was straightened out alright ! What a learning moment. What a revelation. What a gift.

I often think about that moment, especially when I meet or accompany people who are in pain or who are experiencing profound unhappiness. If only they knew that they are the only ones who truly know who they are, and who they can be, and that anyone who questions that is only a bystander with illusions of greatness! Whereas real greatness lies in the freedom to be oneself!

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