Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Twitching All The Way

There is something about the word tolerance that starts my antennae twitching, and leaves me feeling slightly ill at ease. I've learned that these twitches are signals telling me that I've stumbled upon a kind of mental mine shaft, (make that,'mind' shaft), leading to a vein rich in intellectual gold. Subtle and fleeting, these feelings are like blips on a radar screen - easy to miss if you're not paying attention. My acquaintance with the blips began when I was taking a philosophy course in college. I think I can speak for most of my classmates when I say we were all a bit shocky from our first encounter with the tortuous windings of philosophical jargon.To make matters worse our professor spoke at a speed approaching Mach 5. This was especially ironic since it was during this same semester that I had a course taught by the slowest speaking instructor I'd ever met. If he were still teaching, I'd recommend that all insomniacs attend his classes, as I'm certain they would find them more beneficial than sleep clinics or drug therapy. But, I digress. Back to blips 101.

One day my philosophy professor was teaching us how to construct a logical argument. At one point in the lesson he said, "Just follow your instincts." I don't know what impact, if any, this seemingly parenthetical remark made on my fellow students, but its effect on me was magical. That evening, under the spell of his words, I concocted my own secret formula for finding contradictions in logic. Here's how I did it. I put myself in a relaxed but attentive state, and began perusing a philosophical argument whose stated purpose was to prove the existence of God. I don't know why, but I knew my instincts were going to send me some kind of signal as I read through the text. When the signal came, it was in the form of a blip - a split second in which I felt vaguely disquieted. Next, I pinpointed the spot where the blip had occured, and placed my focus there. I didn't focus with intensity. Instead, I let my mind play over the words, giving it what amounted to a little mental tickle. Suddenly, tiny stress fractures appeared in what had seemed to be a facade of iron-clad logic. After a little more tickling the whole armature on which those clever words had hung, collapsed. I used this technique over and over again, and it always worked. But, now I was receiving distress signals from a word called tolerance, only this time it had nothing to do with someone else's faulty logic. I wasn't exactly sure what my subconcious was trying to tell me, but I thought I should try to find out. And so - antennae twitching all the way - I crept down into the mind shaft marked tolerance, and did a little psychic prospecting. My method was simple. I just relaxed, cleared my mind, and meditated on the word tolerance.

It's been my experience that blip material doesn't cling tightly to its secrets. If anything, it seems eager to spill its guts. So, I wasn't at all surprised when I hit pay dirt within seconds of being in the mind shaft. Suddenly, I became aware of the reason for my discomfort around the word tolerance. It stemmed form anger. I hadn't realized how angry I was at some of my family and friends for the way in which they had tolerated me when I was growing up. Despite their owtward show of cordiality I knew they had always judged me harshly because of my non-conformity. To them I was the crazy artist, the whacko who didn't play by their rules.

As I continued to focus on my anger I experienced a shift. My anger had morphed into sadness, and I found myself lamenting the fact that I was living in a world in which peoples' differences would continue to make them targets of fear and prejudice, rather than causes for celebration.

I could go on unearthing nuggets of insight, but that is an endless process, and a dreadful bore to the readers, (assuming there are any, and that I'm not speaking out of a black hole in the blogosphere). Besides, this is the perfect moment to turn my attention to the blogger on Tailcast.com who inspired this piece of writing. The inspiratory author said that the only thing she couldn't tolerate was intolerance. She expressed feeling conflicted because she believed her intolerance was at odds with the tenets of the Eastern philosophy to which she subscribed. Reading her comment caused me to examine my own dilemma concerning intolerance.

As a political animal and former activist, I have strong feelings about such issues as social injustice, and environmental degradation. For me, the question of how, or when to exercise tolerance has always been a tricky one. As a result of my recent prospecting, I know that anger was a complicating factor in my activism. I became locked into an adversarial role, which is a very stressful position to maintain, and one that is often more paralyzing than empowering. Injecting a dose of tolerance into my activism might have made me more affective, and less stressed out. However, that wouldn't have been possible then, because at that time I equated tolerance with passivity. Now, from my new perspective, I see that it is possible to successfully combine tolerance with activism. I can be tolerant toward intolerance by refusing to judge it , or engage directly with those who practice intolerance. I can also be an activist by working to create conditions in the world that foster tolerance. Combating evil directly only strengthens it, at the same time that it imbues us with some of its energy. We can rise above evil by becoming advocates rather than adversaries.

I read, or heard recently, that Mother Theresa said she would never attend anti-war rallies, but only peace rallies. Rather than oppose war, she chose to be a proponent of peace. In doing so she rose above the battlefield, and transcended the stalemate of dualism.

Well, I won't lie to you and say that I've undergone a miraculous transformation. The truth is , I have no idea how successful I'll be at putting my new insights into practice. Then again, maybe I shouldn't try. Maybe everything I learned in the mind shaft - despite its seeming truthfulness - was self-delusion. Is it possible that this piece is nothing but a heaping pile of blog? I'll let you be the judge. Yours with conditions, Glen

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