My mother taught me to be tolerant. Never in my life have I thought of being any other way, all because of her. The first time I witnessed bullying, it shocked me so much that I thought I had simply misread the situation. I hadn’t. And so, as a 7-year-old, I spoke very plainly to the boy who hectored my friend about why his actions were wrong. It did not occur to me that something like that might require courage.
We started the Cool to Be Kind club when I was in the first grade. To combat bullying, daughters and their mothers would gather every week to talk through any difficulties the girls had in school — what I now understand to be a remarkably progressive mode of teaching kindness. No one was left out of the club, and, somewhat surprisingly, no one wanted to be.
The formative years of a child’s life shape the way he instinctively reacts to situations he encounters in adolescence and adulthood. My mother taught my siblings and me to always exercise complete and utter tolerance. Because of that, I grew up with an increasingly firm resolve to not allow any form of prejudice or bigotry to enter into my conversations.
It does not necessarily seem like the coolest thing to do to tell your friends that you are uncomfortable with an off-hand racial slur or prejudiced remark. You may feel awkward the first few times, as if you are cutting into a conversation you now no longer feel a part of — or even welcome at. But it will be rewarding. The first time someone appreciates the gesture, you will understand the importance of it.
There are few things that could be more of a statement about the character of a person than how he speaks of those who are not in the room. It is one thing — a brave thing at that — to combat prejudice in the light of day, but it is another to stay true to those beliefs behind closed doors, in the locker room with the girls or at dinner with the guys.
To some, making an absent-minded racist or homophobic comment does not seem like a big deal. But it is. It is so important to not spread any form of discrimination. Making little comments here and there can easily permeate into regular conversation or evolve into actual violence.
In light of the breathtaking triumph that was Friday morning, I am here to tell you that to be firm about your beliefs on acceptance does not make you rude or too sensitive. It makes you good and tolerant. To be tolerant is to be powerful. It is to be beautiful. To be strong.
Many of the people I know and, surely, many of the ones reading this column practice tolerance. So, to you, continue spreading the message. To those who have yet to grasp the meaning and importance of tolerance, I implore you to try to do so. Begin by refraining from using words that might hurt someone else, and then progress to surrounding yourself with people who do the same.
And finally, to those who have been disparaged by enmity, know that there are countless of us fighting for you. People who know what it’s like to be denigrated and vilified for simply being themselves, or at least can sympathize with that hardship.
Combatting the prejudice that exists must be our responsibility, but we are proud to carry it. I, for one, certainly pledge to continue what little 7-year-old Samantha began: a dedication to simple and unremitting acceptance. Of all people. No matter whom they love, how they identify or the color of their skin. They deserve as much care and respect as you or I do, and I promise to always give them that.
Samantha Rhodes is a rising senior in the College. Watch Your Step appears every other Tuesday.
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