Thursday, 15 May 2014


“Tolerance is giving to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself.” - RobertGreen Ingersoll

I was amazed today while talking to an acquaintance to hear him spout forth some extremely vituperative racist comments while discussing the Middle East. This fellow, whom I know through another mutual acquaintance, had up until yesterday seemed rather pleasant and reasonable, but once this topic was broached, his prejudice coloured his every word and it was immediately obvious that his opinion was very strong, his facts minimal. My feelings were of immediate revulsion and the conversation stopped rather abruptly as he got on his soapbox and started lecturing me about the inherent inferiority of some people and the superiority of others…

Experience has shown me that trying to reason with such people is an absolute waste of time as logic, reason and facts are not heeded by them. Arnold H. Glasow states with good reason: “The fewer the facts, the stronger the opinion.” Not that any discussion was even allowed by my interlocutor. He ploughed on regardless, not interested in what my thoughts were, or even pausing to allow me to attempt to answer some of his questions, which proved to be rhetorical. A Hebrew proverb states: “Opinions founded on prejudice are always sustained with the greatest violence”, and his vehemence attested to this. I was in the fortunate situation of being able to make up my mind about him very quickly after this and he has been shed from my circle of contacts. His kind generates a feeling of distaste and his company will from now on be shunned.

Growing up in Australia in the 1970s as person of non-Anglosaxon background, I was able to experience the full brunt of prejudice in my school years. Children are often the cruellest adherents of such a mindset and of course the feeling of belonging to a group, the concept of “us and them” is very strongly ingrained in their mind. These were the days before multiculturalism, and being in a small country town where I was the only “different” one in the class made me an easy target. I learnt the hard way to defend myself, my heritage and my origins. I proved with deeds not words that I was equal or superior to my peers and over time, I was slowly accepted by them. However, it was not an easy journey and the most deplorable  thing on reflection was that the attitude of my schoolmates was also shared by some of my teachers. Not openly, of course, but on analysis it is apparent that their behaviour at the time could only have been motivated by such discrimination.

Often, of course, a neutral attitude and a failure to speak out, to raise one’s voice in opposition is as bad as being openly prejudiced, or even worse. At least if I encounter a racist who makes his views perfectly obvious, it is preferable to me than someone who says nothing leaving me in doubt as to where his allegiances lie. Martin Niemöller has to say the following about the matter: “In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they went after the homosexuals and infirm, and I did not stand up, because I was neither. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Finally they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up for me.”

All of us on this earth are all connected to each other by our humanity. There are more things that join us than things that separate us. Whether a Pacific Islander on some remote atoll or a banker in New York City, a housewife in India or a career woman in Germany, a Chinese government official or an African village dweller, a Saudi Arabian sheikh or a homeless Australian living in the streets of Sydney, all of us share too many things to allow religion, nationality, political allegiance, language, status or wealth to act as barriers. We all belong to the human family and if any two people from any place on earth are left on a desert island together they will discover innumerable commonalities as they try to cope with the basics of survival and peaceful coexistence.

My family is the human family, my home is the planet earth, my religion is respect and tolerance for all and my politics are coloured by social equity, racial equality and regard for all my fellow humans. My human family is one composed of billions of individuals, all of us different and varied, but so very similar to one another at the same time. We all have the same hopes and dreams and aspirations. Similar things give us pleasure and pain. We laugh and cry and experience the same range of other emotions as the other. William Allen White encapsulates all of this so aptly: “If each man or woman could understand that every other human life is as full of sorrows, or joys, or base temptations, of heartaches and of remorse as his own… how much kinder, how much gentler he would be.”

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