Monday, June 13, 2011

On Tolerance.

The mere mention of the word 'tolerance' to me used to invoke images of older white men gritting their teeth and bearing something unpleasant while thinking of better jokes. Our culture is limping toward the ideal of an accepting and equitable society, but many of the criticisms of modern society is that it is not moving fast enough. I disagree.

The roots of this limping change were in the freedom movements of the 1700's. You know, the ones that gave us the great democratic revolutions that swept the world into numerous wars and, when finished, allowed people the freedom to define their own forms of government. Or that was the concept. Societies are always works in progress. These revolutions merely laid the groundwork for the end of slavery, women voting, for sexual liberation, and for the rights we enjoy enshrined into constitutions, and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Millions died to make these rights available to us, just as thousands of workers died bringing us the right to collectively bargain, demand a 40 hour week, a minimum wage, pensions, and benefits, socialized medicine, and to take children out of the factories and mines. It was a logical progression.

The Arab spring is an exciting modern example. With persistence comes freedom,  and after that I hope to see movements for women's rights, gay rights, children's rights and religious freedom. I have faith that these things are inevitable as long as they exist in the world, just as when democracy was born in the Mediterranean some 2500 years ago, the mere concept ensured it would someday dominate.

Now, bear with me, because this is going to seem completely unrelated.

In the small town of Tweed Ontario, there was a campground owned by a man who wanted to make his living having drunken parties, mud-drag-races, and fireworks displays. To each his own, of course, but it was an unfortunate profession for his neighbors, as they had to put up with strewn beer bottles, keeping their kids away, and being unable to open their windows on cool summer nights for the noise. For decades the residents tried to have it shut down to no avail.

Tweed in the 1990s

Last year, the park finally failed, and the land was bought by two wonderful men from Ottawa, who set to work cleaning it up. The park they are now running is quiet, clean, safe, and members-only exclusively gay. It can be found here:  Riverside.

This is also going to seem unrelated, but if you're a follower of this blog you'll know that everything comes together in the end. I work for a labour Union, and I always tell the people I'm signing that they should forget what they've read and heard about Unions, because at heart a Union is members looking out for each other. I believe that to this day, especially having seen the inner workings, just as I believe that is how society should work as a whole.

By taking that idea one step further, if we look at the number of members in the Union and apply the simple mathematical formula of 1% homosexual and 1% bisexual people throughout society, then there are over 200 members who would identify as gay if it were 'acceptable'.

In the construction industry we are working in one of the last bastions of quietly unchallenged intolerance, but this is changing. Part of this is due to the demographic of construction workers. The average age of operators is over 40, where tower crane operators are the 'oldest' of the construction workforce, with an average age of 45. This means the majority grew up in a 1960's and 1970's culture of intolerance. Change is difficult for them. They need to be assured that tolerance doesn't mean becoming gay, just as watching Oprah doesn't make one black. I believe that change happens generationally, and that this generation have come as far as many of them can.

What we really fight is a fear of the unknown. The terms 'faggot' and 'nigger' and 'spick', and 'retard' all serve one purpose to the person who utters them. It is to label it in their own mind as 'other', and to distance themselves so as not to be judged. It is a rock-jumping search for solidity in a changing world. 'Slurring' is really trying to be accepted by defining ones self from a position of socially accepted dominance. The practice still has power, just as it did for Hitler eighty years ago.

I don't blame, I accept. It exists because it is human nature. Change is threatening, especially to those whose lives have not changed much before. When people feel threatened, they blame others for the change, and slurs result. Simply knowing about it and teaching our children, in itself, helps to break down the behavior generation after generation.

Back to our example in the Riverside campground, I was proud when neighbors offered helping hands, or even just simply walked over to introduce themselves. I was also very proud hearing the name spoken on the streets of Ottawa last week, because it means that Clinton and Derek will make a good go of it. If it's bringing people in, then it is one more step toward being a viable business in a difficult area to find success.

So now the reader asks what is the endgame of all this? Where am I going?

It's simple. I want a world that accepts my children, and their children, and anything we do toward this end as a society is something I will be proud of. My tolerance doesn't just apply to lip-service when convenient, and a wishy washy flip when inconvenient. I know a day will come when a gay operator comes out and needs someone to defend them on a job site where being gay is never admitted. Will my Union be willing to protect his or her rights as an operator and as a Union member?

I don't want to hope so, I want to make it so.

No matter what their background, brother or sister, I would like to defend every member as if they were my grown up kids, because standing up for people's rights is the reason Unions were founded in the first place.

This change will happen in due time, even if just one person at a time. Derek and Clint and the Riverside campground are more than welcome in my neck of the woods, because they are good people, and that's what this whole society business is all about in the long run. Whether through religion or law, or just plain good deeds, it is people looking out for each other. We need a lot more of that.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
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