Tolerance and Teaching

This world needs more tolerance.

It’s getting to the point where you can’t express an opinion without somebody immediately jumping on you and shouting you down.

I get that not everybody will agree with me. I don’t understand or know every nuance of every subject. Sometimes I make mistakes, or fail to express my meaning clearly. Sometimes it’s simply an opposing perspective.

But in this hair-trigger, offence-taking, call-out culture there is no place for uncertainty, mistakes, or a lack of clarity. One foot wrong in this social minefield and the dust won’t settle for days!

I get the anger, I really do. I see people repeat the same old misinformation again and again: whether it’s vaccines or immigration or any number of other subjects. It’s frustrating.

But if I were to attack everybody who says something I disagree with or find problematic, I would be doing neither side any favors. I see it this way: either a person is going to listen or they are not.

If they aren’t going to listen to my argument then however forcefully I make it I won’t reach them. If they might listen, then shouting and bullying them will only make them defensive and unwilling to listen any further.

I know that when I first started writing about autism I was on a steep learning curve. At first I was pretty ignorant, uninformed. I invested my time in learning as much as I could, interacting with people through their blogs.

In the early days my terminology was less than perfect; there was more I didn’t understand than I did. I dread to think of the reaction I would get today from some people I have seen on Twitter and elsewhere!

But luckily the people I interacted with were patient and forgiving. Tolerant of “newbie” mistakes. So my investment of time and effort in learning about autism was worth my while.

If I’d been bullied for things like person-first language (“person with autism”) or for innocently using problematic phrases that are common in colloquial speech, I think I’d have disengaged from the autism “community”.

I don’t know that I have contributed a whole lot myself, but I know for sure that I would know a heck of a lot less about myself and autism.

So, tolerance. Be forgiving of others’ mistakes. Try to help them understand better, give them a chance to learn and improve.

Some may say that it’s not their job to teach everyone they encounter. But if not, then whose job is it? Do you seriously think everybody will spend time learning as much as possible before they begin to interact publicly?

By putting myself out there in public spaces as autistic and trans I have made myself, intentionally or not, into a representative of those identities. I owe it to myself and everybody else who shares those identities to do what I can to increase people’s knowledge and understanding.

The best teachers are patient, compassionate, and understanding as well as knowledgeable. What use is knowledge that is not shared? What use is a message that nobody will listen to?

This post was originally posted on my personal Facebook wall.

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3 thoughts on “Tolerance and Teaching

  1. The other point is that one person can think that the way to express something is appropriate and inform the speaker of this and then the speaker uses it, and gets verbally assaulted by someone else who doesn’t like that particular turn of phrase.

    One of my spouse’s co-workers was gay and unknown to us, married to her same sex partner. She got angry when I mistakenly referred to her spouse as her “partner” and corrected me that it was her “wife”. After that, we simply avoided her because there were too many landmines. I was later informed by a member of the LBGT community that when two females marry, they are both referred to as “wife” and two males are both referred to as “husbands”. Two other LBGT community members strongly disagreed, but could only say they were offended by the term. They could not give me any kind of reference on how to refer to spouses and simply stated that my use of the word “wife” or “husband” was sexist.

    • That’s a good point. I think it’s completely unreasonable to get angry over a common, gender-neutral (and marital status-neutral) term like “partner”.

      To add to the confusion I know a married couple (both men) who refer to themselves as “Mr. and Mrs. X”, and “husband and wife”, and many of their family and friends (myself included) address them in this way. They find it amusing to subvert the normal usage.

  2. Good post Alex.
    One of the things I see is when some folk over-identify with a particular cause. Thus they take anything said against that point of view as a personal attack and get upset.

    It helps not to take oneself too seriously! 🙂

    Thanks for your ongoing insightful posts.

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