For years I’ve jokingly adopted a sound bite that best describes my attitude toward life, “I can’t tolerate intolerant people.”
As a society, we are bombarded with headlines about intolerable, inappropriate, horrific and downright bizarre behavior against human beings within all socio-economic, ethnic and age groups. We often try to make sense of it all, puzzled by the behaviors of people and why individuals choose to victimize, shun and criticize those who differ from others in the slightest way.
Where has tolerance gone? How has it seemingly vanished from so many corners of our society? How do we reclaim it? How do we walk it, not just talk it? There is great joy to be found in tolerance.
Joseph & Asher
Binyamin & Dan
The Joys of Tolerance
The multi-media exhibit by Mexican artist Anette Pier is displayed at the Peoria WTVP Gallery, 101 State Street, and examines how our human differences are essential to a complete society. Twenty four original pieces by Pier colorfully express the theme of the ancient Twelve Tribes of Israel as a universal concept of the “first diverse society.” Jacob fathered 12 sons, who were the ancestors of the tribes of Israel and the ones for whom the tribes are named. The tribes and their traits are: Joseph—self-control; Issachar—wise; Reuben–impulsive; Levi—dedicated to divine service; Binyamin—modest; Shimon—aggressive; Asher—happy and satisfied; Zevulun—merchant; Yehuda—passionate; Gad—military; Dan—warrior; and Naphtali—graceful. By showing that the personality traits of the 12 tribes exist in all ethnic groups, the exhibit is able to demonstrate the diversity and universality of humankind. Twelve Floridians were also chosen by Pier to reflect the characteristics of each of the tribes through photographic collages and to make an “American” connection. Furthermore, the exhibit—which includes art, music and film—challenges Peorians of all ages and ethnic backgrounds to examine how this city’s multiculturalism is a collective strength. The gallery is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Saturdays. For more information and to share thoughts, experiences, hopes and frustrations visit www.peoriatolerance.org.
Many women are keenly attuned to the world that revolves around them because of numerous intricate and intimate circles of relationships—as close as our own homes or the other side of this planet. Women exert huge influence within our society as leaders in practicing the art of tolerance. As mothers, nurturers and volunteers, women possess what I believe is an inherent desire to lift and build rather than destroy.
We’re all born with “clean slates.” Toddlers want to learn as much as possible and explore the exciting differences in this wondrous sphere called life. Why else do they squirm and fight naptime? Small children are the most tolerant, accepting and loving—unmarred by pre-conceived notions and stereotypes fueled by our exposure to life itself.
Somewhere along the way, we become tainted. We adopt prejudices and suspicions of our fellow human beings. As adults swept up in the complexities and changes of everyday life, we can easily forget how to discover our commonalities and celebrate our diversities.
Yes, there is unlimited joy to be unearthed when we open our minds and hearts to all the ideas and marvels human beings can offer each other. When we refuse to learn and grow, I believe that we begin to die within immediately.
Intolerance grows out of impatience and a lack of respect for others, an unwillingness to open up to all the rich possibilities of life. Why do you think each of us is a unique human being? Our fingerprints and very genetic make-up prove our differences. Why else are we called individuals with so many roles in life to learn from our experiences with others? Why else do women bond? Because of a need to enrich, nurture and better understand ourselves and others.
As a woman, wife, mother, daughter, friend, writer and human being, I take lessons in humanity from every connection I make. I’ve tried to understand why human beings treat each other the way they do. I’ve talked to individuals and families facing cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other maladies to find out how they were treated differently after their diagnosis. I’ve engaged in conversations with Holocaust survivors to find out why they were so hated just because they were born Jewish. I consoled my son when he was younger and ostracized by kids who simply delighted in being cruel.
All these life experiences immediately attracted me to “The Joys of Tolerance, Reflecting Diversity Through the Twelve Tribes,” a project born in Florida and brought to Peoria May 10-June 10 by the Peoria Hebrew Day School. I was captivated by the goals of the “Faces of Diversity: 2007 Juried Art Contest” coordinated by Preston Jackson and sponsored by Bradley University. And I was also captivated by the the essay contest for middle and high school students on how to define and explore the immense topic of tolerance through written expression. The theme of the contests emphasized that although everyone is different; everyone can and must learn to get along. Through the essays I’ve read so far, I’ve learned that kids would not enjoy this world if we were all the same, if we were not diverse entities. I’ve discovered how children’s hearts are broken when they’re shunned and treated poorly by other kids who think they’re better. Their words are compelling life lessons we should not ignore in our urgent search and need for a more diverse society. The art and essay contests were open to all high school and college students living in or attending school in Peoria, Putnam, Bureau, Tazewell, Woodford, Stark, Marshall, Fulton or Knox Counties. The jury’s selection of the best art representation of each tribe will be displayed in the gallery along with “The Joys of Tolerance” exhibit.
All of us—women, men and children—are encouraged to take a closer look at the topic of tolerance in our own lives and our communities. Invest the time to participate in the numerous opportunities “The Joys of Tolerance” will bring to our community in what can be a truly magical month. Monologues can lead to powerful dialogues. Our very existence in this world relies on tolerance.
Monica Vest Wheeler is best known as Peoria’s “Queen of History.” She will be giving presentations to businesses and organizations on how to make tolerance an exciting challenge and sharing some of the tolerance contest essays the students have written. She can be contacted at [email protected] or by calling 682-8851. The Peoria resident has completed seven books on specific aspects of Peoria history including business, religion and ethnicity. She is currently working on additional books covering various subjects including the Holocaust. Wheeler is also co-founder of BF Press, which released its first book, Cancer—Here’s How YOU Can Help ME Cope & Survive, co-authored by Wheeler. tpw