I received something in the mail last week that got me to thinking about walls.
While installing new laminate flooring in my house, I’ve become intimate with the walls of my home. I’ve had to remove baseboard, measure distances, make repairs, all providing me a closer look at something which I often take for granted.
I thought of the Wall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial located in Washington. This simple design is a stark reminder of the sacrifices made by more that 56,000 Americans who lost their lives in one of America’s most unpopular conflicts.
How about the Wall of Death, a stunt show popular in the United Kingdom that also has an American version? Both require motorcycles, flames, and extreme danger. There’s apparently another Wall of Death in the UK, as memorialized in song by Richard Thompson on his album Shoot Out The Lights, a collection which I strongly recommend.
You comedy freaks will certainly be familiar with the Wall of Science, one of the delightful rides in the Firesign Theatre’s Future Fair…
…with the invention of the Motor Operated Pushover, Man and Science gave birth to life here, today, in the Future! Man, woman, child! All is up against the Wall of Science!
I’ve now been invited to have my name permanently inscribed on the Wall Of Tolerance. That’s correct. I’ve received in the mail a personal invitation from none other than Morris Dees, who directs the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC has long been an advocate in the battle to stop racist/hate groups like the KKK. Mr. Dees has personally requested that I accept his invitation to have my name engraved on the Wall Of Tolerance, a memorial that will be constructed at the new Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama. I don’t know how much of the center is complete at this point, but apparently the Wall is an important part of the site, and I must have done something important for Mr. Dees to personally invite me to become a part of this display for all time.
Mr. Dees was joined by none other than Mrs. Rosa Parks in requesting my participation in this new venture. Historically, I can’t think of too many people who, in one simple moment of defiance, acted as heroically as Mrs. Parks did in Montgomery in 1954. Mrs. Parks was tired from a day of hard work and just wanted to sit for the ride home on the bus. By refusing to give up her seat to a white man, she quietly fired up a movement that changed the course of American life forever. She is a true American hero.
Unfortunately, Mr. Dees’ invitation comes with a price. In order to have my name inscribed on the Wall of Tolerance, he suggests that I become a “Founding Member” of the National Campaign for Tolerance at the suggested
price donation of $35. Oh, I could donate just $25, but that additional ten bucks is really what is recommended to have the etching of my name on the wall. Naturally, the premiums increase with the size of the donation. For $50, I get the name on the wall and a copy of a video about Mrs. Park’s life. Since I already know what Mrs. Parks did in 1954, and since I know she’s tirelessly worked to improve the civil rights of others over the decades, I really don’t need the video.
What I find odd about this mailing is that it assumes that in order for me to demonstrate my “tolerance,” it would be necessary for me to have my name hammered on a wall for the world to see. They also assume that I would want to pay money to have said name hammered on said wall. They also assume that in doing so, I will someday visit the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery to see my name hammered on the wall, which will, in turn, improve the local economy of Montgomery as my family and I spend money during our visit. They further assume that other people will somehow be impressed that li’l ol’ me (or li’l ol’ anyone else) has bothered to have their name added to this elite list of tolerant folks.
I wonder just how my name was selected for an invitation for such an honor. I don’t recall having done anything particularly tolerant recently. I don’t suppose Mr. Dees or Mrs. Parks have read a lot of the stuff I’ve written here, which would make it apparent that I’m not tolerant of many things, like fools and idiots.
As a special incentive, the organization included in the mailing a sheet of personalized address labels for my use, labels which include the “Teach Tolerance” logo. This is, I assume, supposed to be my way of reminding others of this important concept. Since I now pay nearly all my bills on line and haven’t written a personal letter since about 1993, I don’t suppose I’ll have much use for those.
The letter mentions the Teach Tolerance program, which is designed to bring the concepts of tolerance into the classrooms and cafeterias of America’s schools. In the letter, Bill Moyers is quoted saying that this program is “a bold move into America’s classrooms to curb the rising tide of racial hatred.” Hmmm.
While I appreciate the offer from Mr. Dees and his organization, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to pass on having myself memorialized (at a minimum cost to me of $35) on the Wall. I might feel differently if I was told that I was going into the granite on their dime, but the idea of paying to have myself ensconced among the smiling, happy tolerant elite seems a bit egotistical for my tastes.
Besides, I’m really not good material for the Wall, as I’m probably one of the most intolerant people I know. For example, I’m not very tolerant of the idiot who told me that installing laminate flooring in my house would be “easy.” The guy who parked his pickup truck in my space at work, then took off to Guantanamo Bay or Roosevelt Roads or wherever for two weeks wasn’t very high on my likability list. I really hate people who spam me. Crowds at malls get to me, which is why I avoid malls. The fact that all the NFL games on Sunday go to commercials at the same time pisses me off to no end. That guy blocking the left lane while he’s conducting business on his cell phone? Hate him. I’m not fond of some of the opposing political views of certain people…that doesn’t mean I hate or even dislike them…but I’m certainly not tolerant of their views. The Boston Rex Sox? Phfffttt! And I’m certainly beyond tolerance for most popular music, most current movies, about 80% of what’s on television, and much of what’s being said by the current Democratic presidential candidates, better known here as the ’62 Mets.
With these kinds of attitudes, I doubt I’d be tolerance material for the organization’s memorial. Besides, I also have some issues with their “teaching tolerance” concept. Mr. Moyers mentioned curbing the rising racial hatred in schools. Huh? Perhaps Mr. Moyers hasn’t been in attendance in some of America’s schools lately, but I’ve seen plenty of evidence that kids have figured out, pretty much on their own, that associating with people unlike themselves is okay. In fact, I’d bet that much of this attitude didn’t come from what they learned in school, but what they were taught at home. My wife and I taught our child that people are people, and that God sees no differences. My parents taught me similar lessons, not by banging me over the head with a bunch of intellectual arguments, but by not practicing hatred towards others. You know, the old “teaching by example” routine?
The problem I have with teaching the “tolerance” issue in schools, or even with memorializing it on some wall with my name, is that it asks us to be tolerant of only a specific set of attitudes. To this bunch, “tolerance” apparently means that you should “tolerate” other people, no matter what their racial, religious, political, social, economic, sexual or other physiological, physical or political views may be. I suppose that’s a noble cause, but by the very acts and writings of the SPLC itself, one can only be tolerant of certain people and groups.
The SPLC’s mission is to monitor and, through litigation, hopefully eliminate the influence of hate groups in America. Now, what do hate groups say and do? Well, it’s mostly pretty hateful stuff (logically). Most hate both blacks and Jews. Most blame one or both of those groups for all the world’s ills. Most espouse completely “white” societies through segregation, breeding and a halt to all non-white immigration. Such attitudes are not exclusive to white groups like neo-Nazis and Klan-like clubs. The SPLC also watches black separatist groups like the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panther Party, both of which espouse racial separation and an extreme hatred for Jews.
Chronic optimist that I am, I believe that the attitudes put forth by most, if not all, of these groups are attitudes accepted by an extremely small minority of people in this nation. The fact that most of the “white power” groups are small, fractious and without much influence is a testament to the changing attitudes of American society during the past half-century. Mr. Moyers’ “rising tide” doesn’t make sense when one examines the rise of the black middle class, and how many minority political leaders have emerged and won victory after victory…in the South, a region where blacks were once considered less than human not just by individual attitudes, but by the law. I have to wonder which way the tide is actually moving when I examine the accomplishments of minorities in this nation in my lifetime.
According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, one of the definitions of “tolerance” is capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others. Now, when one considers the true lack of power for these hate groups, why is it that “tolerance” doesn’t include “tolerating” their very existence?
If members of these groups commit violent acts against others, they must be criminally prosecuted, just as any person who commits a violent crime should be prosecuted.
But why should the views of some be “tolerated” differently from the views of others? What I fear, and this is a fear felt by many with the advocacy of “hate crime” laws, is that such attempted control of actions leads to controls of thought. Physically assaulting a person is an evil thing and the person who commits such an act must be punished. But no one should have their thought process questioned when they decide who’s beliefs should be tolerated and who’s shouldn’t. One of the prices we have to pay for living in a free society is that we must be willing to tolerate the often-unpopular views of those with whom we vehemently disagree.
The wonderful thing about freedom is that it allows us, as thinking beings, to decide for ourselves what we accept and what we reject. Fortunately for the majority of us, the hateful attitudes of these groups resonates only among a small number of people and is rejected by the majority through thoughtfulness, logic and caring for one’s fellow humans.
Since I figured this out a long time ago, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to toss $35 or more to Morris Dees and his wall. I hope this doesn’t mean I’m now going to be included in the SPLC’s list of Top 40 racists. Maybe I’ll track down someone who’s pissed me off and treat them to lunch.