Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tolerance fails T-shirt test

Here's a story in the Chicago Tribune about a girl who wanted to do an experiment to test the "tolerance" of those in who pride themselves most on their "tolerance".

She noticed that there were a lot if kids who wore Obama shirts to school in support of Barak Obama for president before the election, so she decided to wear a shirt to school one day that simply said "McCain Girl" and then record the reactions she got from both students and staff.

"People were upset. But they started saying things, calling me very stupid, telling me my shirt was stupid and I shouldn't be wearing it," Catherine said.

Then it got worse.

"One person told me to go die. It was a lot of dying. A lot of comments about how I should be killed," Catherine said, of the tolerance in Oak Park.

But students weren't the only ones surprised that she wore a shirt supporting McCain.

"In one class, I had one teacher say she will not judge me for my choice, but that she was surprised that I supported McCain," Catherine said.

If Catherine was shocked by such passive-aggressive threats from instructors, just wait until she goes to college.

"Later, that teacher found out about the experiment and said she was embarrassed because she knew I was writing down what she said," Catherine said.

One student suggested that she be put up on a cross for her political beliefs.

Only a few times did anyone say anything remotely positive about her McCain shirt. One girl pulled her aside in a corner, out of earshot of other students, and whispered, "I really like your shirt."

The next day she wore a shirt that simply said "Obama Girl". The reactions were quite different.

"People liked my shirt. They said things like my brain had come back, and I had put the right shirt on today," Catherine said.

Some students accused her of playing both sides.

"A lot of people liked it. But some people told me I was a flip-flopper," she said. "They said, 'You can't make up your mind. You can't wear a McCain shirt one day and an Obama shirt the next day.' "

But she sure did, and she turned her journal into a report for her history teacher, earning Catherine extra credit. We asked the teacher, Norma Cassin-Pountney, whether it was ironic that Catherine would be subject to such intolerance from pro-Obama supporters in a community that prides itself on its liberal outlook.

I think that anyone who clings to an ideology and then attaches a "good" name to it like "tolerant", "smart", "wise", "kind", "selfless", "progressive", etc.; is then, without much of a leap, able to label those who migh disagree with them as "intolerant", "stupid", "unwise", "unkind", "selfish", "regressive", etc. There are two dangers that I immediately see with this belief. First, it causes us to automatically throw out all of the ideas from the opposing ideology as bad ideas, even if their not, and it also can cause us to demonize those who support those ideologies. Either way, we come off looking "intolerant" and "stupid" when we're faced with our bad behavior.

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