The day that my daughter and I were headed to the airport, my new Turkish friend, Abdurrahman, who has been visiting our church for the last two years as a gesture of peace and global tolerance, asked me about the word “tolerance.”
It had come to his attention that tolerance can mean something negative. “I want more than to have someone simply tolerate me!” a colleague told him.
The conversation stuck with me on my flight to Istanbul and for the next couple of days. Then somewhere near the ancient cities of Lystra, Derbe and Iconium, my thoughts took shape and I wrote this essay entitled “Tolerance.”
“What is tolerance?” It is not all good. At its basest level - Level 1 - it is putting up with another, sitting on clenched fist. It is not trust. It is not friendship. It is a truce. “If I let you be, will you let me be?” And this is what we call tolerance.
Sometimes, and these times are beautiful, tolerance reaches a second level - Level 2 - it is talking. It may not seem like tolerance. Sometimes it is loud. Sometimes it is awkward. Sometimes it is offensive. It is like learning how to dance, but it is growth.
“This is who I am. This is what I believe! This is what I eat! This is how I dress and worship!”
We learn a little about each other. And this is tolerance.
Quietness sets in, and then, almost as if on its own, tolerance grows - Level 3. It is listening. Trust has begun to replace suspicion. Question marks replace exclamation points. “Tell me about yourself: What is your family like? Your faith? Your home?”
Jaws relax. Hands open and sometimes are even clasped together rather than clenched. Smiles replace suspicion, and we learn. Most people see this as tolerance, but there are more stages, more beautiful, relational transformations.
As stone silence gives way to talking and talking yields to listening ... as hands go from being clenched to opened to clasped, another level of tolerance emerges: Level 4. It is respect.
There is an appreciation for the other. You are just as much a person as I. Your family has fears and hopes even as mine does. You cry and laugh and worry and pray as I do. The balance has shifted to where we see eye to eye without condescension. This is tolerance.
Respect is a beautiful stage in the process of tolerance. As it grows and stories are shared, we reach another level of tolerance, almost by accident - Level 5 - it is our story. Somehow as I told you my story and you told me your story, we were writing our story. We shared watermelon on the rooftop. We sang songs in the night air. Remember, we started singing separately, but ended singing together.
Our story. Our memories. Community. Tolerance.
It has come so far, this concept of tolerance, from truce to trust, from respect to relationships, from sharing stories to shaping stories. And yet there is more: Level 6. It is friendship. Solidarity. I now like you and you like me. I think of you when you are absent. I smile when I see you, and you smile, too. Handshakes have given way to embraces; nods are replaced by pats on the back and the mussing of hair. Reunions are arranged, future contacts desired.
I am no longer curious; I care. I truly care for you my friend, for your family, for your country. And this is tolerance.
Seven is the perfect number. There are seven days of the week, seven seals in Revelation, and there are seven levels to tolerance. Level 7? It is love.
Walls are removed, suspicions are relaxed, reservations are repealed. Eyes sparkle with delight rather than peering for inconsistencies and flaws. Your pain causes me to hurt. Your joy causes me to laugh. Your pleasure brings me delight. Hands are held, not just shaken. Souls embrace as well as arms. We are brothers, sisters, siblings. We are certain that God loves us and that God expects us to love each other, and we are elated to comply.
Tolerance has been made complete in love and perfect love casts out all fear.
“What is tolerance?” I was once asked.
It is truce: Sitting on clenched fist.
It is talking: Claiming my rights, my story.
It is listening: Being open to your story.
It is respect: Clasping hands together in trust.
It is one story: Creating shared moments.
It is friendship: Genuine caring.
It is love: Expressing complete, mature, perfect love.
It is God’s desire for our world. It is our world’s only hope and it is my desire. Tolerance.
Originally published at www.theeagle.com. The Bryan-College Station Eagle.