This I Believe: Tolerance
In Celebrations of Life, René Dubos wrote, “Human diversity makes tolerance more than a virtue; it makes it a requirement for survival.” As a result of events in the world, I have come to learn the definition of “tolerance”, and I have come to believe that it truly is “a requirement for survival”.
As a child, I never saw distinctions in people; I only saw people to love. Unfortunately, I was forced to realize that there are differences in people. On September 11th, 2001, people around the world began to notice these distinctions.
I walked out of my eighth grade math class and met my best friend in the hallway. Walking to our lockers, we heard a boy shout, “I bet it was the Japanese!” Confused by the commotion amongst the other students, we walked quickly to our social studies class.
When we entered the room, the television was on; we began realizing what the students must have been discussing. The class came in, one by one, and took a seat. Silenced by awe, we listened as the newscasters began analyzing who the assailants could be. All eyes turned to my friend who was sitting beside of me. With her dark skin and head scarf, Zarin was as confused as we were as to what was transpiring in our country. Zarin was a Muslim whose parents came to America from India. Realizing what was going through the minds of the students, Zarin’s attention turned to her own identity as a Muslim American. She was in as much pain as the rest of us were as we watched the events take place; now, she had to worry about her friendships that were dissolving in front of her eyes.
Throughout the next few weeks, I found myself stopping narrow-minded comments as they came out of the mouths of thirteen-year-olds. The comments, the glances, and the threats never subsided. In an effort to weed out terrorism, these students, like many in our nation, began terrorizing those who physically appeared to fit the profile of those who attacked our country.
Of course, Zarin was not a terrorist or anything close for that matter. One day, our social studies teacher, frustrated with the way the students were responding to those of other cultures, invited a Muslim lady to teach, not preach, about her religion and heritage. The local paper reported about this day as a “Day of Teaching Tolerance”.
Letters to the Editor, protesting the fact that our school would ever allow such an event to take place, began pouring in by the dozens. Ironically, the presentation this lady made increased the students’ tolerance while fueling the intolerance of the adults in our community. It is my hope that the youth of this generation will seize learning opportunities, such as the lessons we received from Zarin as well as the lady who spoke to us, and use them as they grow to lead our nation.
Ultimately, I am glad that September 11th taught me that there are differences in people. Without learning these differences, I would have never learned the importance of tolerance, in which in now I so strongly believe.
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