I was reading a friend’s blog post a while back, a personal rant she shot off about tolerance (especially among the particular Christian community of which she considers herself a part) in response to Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn. I had not realized (at that time) that this was a big deal, or even anything particularly new to discuss, but then I have been living in Los Angeles for about 30 years and this sort of thing is long past novel for me. I know that there are plenty of bigots and idiots in Southern California, but I’ve been fortunate enough to surround myself with, if not always like-minded, at least open-minded individuals for most of my time here. I am also fairly confident that even my oldest friends from rural Illinois who remain entrenched in “Middle America” are soundly rooted in kindness and tolerance. In my well-lived-in fantasy world, it often seems that most narrow-minded people exist strictly as online trolls, waiting to lob their tirades at rational science or reasonably centrist political viewpoints. Then, every now and again, I wake up and venture outside.
For a long time, I’ve been repeating my belief that much of what is wrong with our particular society is rooted in a lack of Critical Thinking Skills. And I believe that tolerance, in general, is indicative of that same problem. If we, as a culture, were to exercise better critical thinking, then bigotry of all types should readily dissipate. After all, bigotry stems from a certain dogmatic thought process which is destroyed by self-examination and a broader understanding of how things actually work and fit together. Therefore, any thoughtful group of people ought to find that their differences make them stronger and unite them better, unless those differences are actually offensive, like maybe an intolerable odor or something, in which case Critical Thinking Skills could once again come to the rescue and salvage that situation. The part of me that wants to have faith in Humanity is inclined to suggest that those bigots are simply suffering from mental illness. And maybe in a way that is what it is. But if so, there is far too much acceptance, even embrace of that particular illness, and far too little being offered as treatment.
But as much as we, as a society, as a greater collective, find it easy to be either intolerant of others or intolerant of the intolerant, or simply perplexed at why we can’t all just get along, we also have a tendency to struggle with the imperfections, the foibles and shortcomings and perceived inadequacies that are our very own. Vanity has its grip, to one degree or another, on us all. And I wonder if being unable to shake it, to unshackle the less than perfect beast from the chains of unsatisfactory expectation, has any bearing on whether we can be more accepting of everything else in the universe, of everything outside of the “Bubble of Me.”
Tolerance of where we are in life, who and how we are with ourselves, both physically and emotionally, are byproducts of our own self-critique. The more we shove down our own insecurities, the more likely, perhaps, we are to redirect our self-loathing outward toward the easiest marks we can find. Which is to say, intolerance of all stripes stems from a sadly misplaced sense of vanity.
We all suffer from vanity; whether because we are vain or because we are rife with insecurities, it all comes from the same basic place. We want others to be more like us because we are afraid of being less than ordinary. Our egos drive us to feel superior where we are not, and to feed that feeling we tell lies about it to ourselves, get angry at things that counter our lies and make a mess of the world in the process. On a macro level, we have Hitler and the vanity of the Nazi movement, still reflected in racist hatred today by scared, weak-minded people who redirect their insecurities to blame others for their own perceived shortcomings of self. On the micro level, we have those needless concerns of whether we look right or project the image we want or whether we have attained the status we think we deserve. All of these things are illusions.
Vanity is a great evil, of course. Yet here I am, quite aware as I talk about how important it is that I don’t lose my hair because of that grotesque scar on my scalp. Plus, I have a really good head of hair, and I probably owe it to the world to keep it. Back to that “Bubble of Me.”
When we are entrenched in our own vanity, whether that is taking the form of our ego or our irrational fears, it is difficult to address the underlying problems we are having. Stress? Hidden by vanity. Health concerns? Shielded by vanity. Vanity is the purveyor of great misdirection. Vanity keeps you from having to face the problems that, frankly, you really should be facing. It’s a personal smokescreen, albeit one that sometimes offers that nice Old Hollywood soft-focus effect, like Vaseline on the lens.
Our task, therefore, is to wipe away the petroleum jelly.
We need to wipe it away for the benefit of society, so that we can all see beyond our personal window with its special shutters and open our eyes to a truly panoramic view of the world. We need to do it so that we can see those things far and wide, but also so we can look in the mirror and actually see ourselves. For what we truly are; both who we are and who we want to be.
We get perspective from many sources and learn about the world in many ways — when we are open to the discovery and acceptance of new information. Truth is nothing to fear. Knowledge is only dangerous in that it can open our minds to different possibilities. But we can only receive Truth and Knowledge when we let go of Vanity and all its trappings.