Tolerance is always best?
I used to think of "tolerance" as an action akin to holding your tongue when someone said something really stupid or inane (or redundant!!) Then, as I got older, I began to think of "tolerance" in a sense of people and cultures, colors and languages. I became very interested in the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has a school program titled "Teaching Tolerance," and found it not only a great tool, but a great philosophy. I tolerate a lot of actions I didn't used to, as a result.
Today, the first day back to work after some badly needed holiday time off, I move into a new understanding and acceptance of tolerance -- that of relatives at the holidays! I asked a colleague this morning if his holidays were pleasant. "No," came his immediate, though matter-of-face response. "But I did survive the relatives." I laughed, though I was sad that his initial response had been "NO!" After all, isn't there something wrong with this picture?
Understanding that "survival" and "tolerance" don't always fit thesaurically, in this case, they have almost identical meanings! I knew exactly what he meant, and suspect we all do.
Everyone I know has someone whose presence they dread, but are forced to spend time with during the holidays. And when I say "forced," I mean, well, "forced." True, no one stands over me with a club or the threat of prison to make me do this. And perhaps in other areas of the country and world the force isn't as great as it is in the midwestern United States. But here in the land of no-insults, we would be mortified to go against...gulp...TRADITION.
Here's the scenario: (Insert holiday here) is nearing, and you are planning for some feasting and gift-giving. Sounds pleasant, if not a bit harried, but should be a fun and happy time. In the foreground, you plan the meal(s), shop for the gifts, and issue the invitations. In the background, you complain about the cost, not knowing what to get anyone, and wish that Uncle Archie and Aunt Edith* would be unable to come. For the past twenty years, Uncle Archie has made crude noises at the table, drunk too much, and insulted pretty much everyone. (He's not originally from the Midwest.) Aunt Edith inevitably ends up crying on someone's shoulder, and they pretty much ruin every get-together they ever attend. Before leaving the place in an emotional shambles, they announce that they really should never have come -- he, because he really doesn't like this group, anyway (burp), and she, because she's so sorry that everything turned out the way it did.
So why do we do it to ourselves and all those whom we'd really like to spend the time with? Because it is tradition, and besides, our parents are watching us, making sure everything is done according to the original plan. And perhaps we really do like all of these people on some level, even if we are willing to spend time with them just once a year. Maybe the tradition really is group therapy, during which we collectively re-learn the meaning of "tolerance!" Clark Griswold's wife said it best in "Christmas Vacation" when she told her kids that "Well, it's Christmas, and everyone's miserable!" In many cases, "miserable" may be too strong a word, but then again we are from the Midwest and "misery loves company" here! And apparently misery leads to tolerance...
Happy New Year! Spend it with people you like.
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent/intolerable.