This I Believe

Jessica - Pearland, Texas
Entered on September 15, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: tolerance

I am a physician practicing in Houston. I am a Muslim convert for the last 13 years. I was compelled to write on the topic as I was listening to the listener’s comments regarding your coverage of the fifth anniversary of the 9-11 disaster. I was stuck by the amount of intolerance expressed by the listener’s comments. So I say,

I believe in tolerance. I believe that it is in our nature to be tolerant of each other, but unexplained violence or disaster makes us fearful, distrustful and intolerant. And the cumulative experiences of the generations before us inculcated this fear and distrust and intolerance to our generation. The best example of tolerance I have observed is the way little children interact with each other. Whenever I see my children meet other children, they don’t really care whether they are of Caucasian or Asian or Africa descent – they only see the different shades of the same color – light brown, brown or dark brown. They don’t care how the other children are dressed or how they talk, they only see that they are about the same height and share the same interests – food and play – and they are all happy to share both.

In my practice as a physician, when I walk in the room, after the usual introductions, the firs question I typically get is “Where are you from?” followed quickly by “What religion are you?” If the patient is bold enough, they pursue it further with “Why are you dressed like that?” or “Why do you cover your hair?” I get it from everybody, White, Black, Asians, Arabs, Hispanics. Most of the questions are natural curiosity but a number of them have some wariness bordering on distrust. In the beginning, I often caught myself biting down a “None of your business” retort to these questions. After all, they have no bearing in my abilities as a physician. It was only some time later that I began to realize that I am thinking the same way as these people when I asked my daughter about her friends in school. I caught myself trying to pry for information as to whether her friends are caucasian or asian or hispanic or african-american. I was also classifying people and putting them in pegs.

It took a 5-year old to put me in my proper place by answering that everybody in her class were brown, just like her.

Seeing my children play with our neighbor’s children, I learned an important lesson from them – tolerance – the ability to ignore what is different and dwell on their similarities. When I look or listen to the news from anywhere in the world, most of the conflicts and killings and misery we inflict on each other can be traced down to one fundamental thing – intolerance. Intolerance to the color of skin, the religion practiced the language spoken, the manner food is eaten, the manner of dressing, the list can go on and on. Be it neighborhood disputes, gang violence or wars that are fought – they all boil down to one and the other seeing the differences rather than the similarities.

These days, I try very hard, against my generation;s upbringing, not to teach my children labels. I try NOT to teach them to call somebody white or black or oriental or hispanic. I try NOT to highlight how we differ from our neighbors but rather how similar they are in the toys or games they like or their interests in school. I want them to understand that they have differences but it should not stand in the way of their being able to deal and play with each other. In nurturing my children’s inner nature to be tolerant of others, I hope I would have done my share in changing the world one child at a time. Simplistic though it may be, our children can have a better world than what we have now if we all do our share of raising a tolerant generation, this I believe.