Developing tolerance

While browsing through my Facebook news feed this morning, I came across an article that addressed some of the challenges faced by members of the transgender community. It struck a chord with me. I realised that I have no idea whatsoever what it must be like to be a transgender person. It occurred to me that this realisation might be the beginning of real tolerance in myself.

I’ve experienced a lot of pressure to have an opinion about everything. That’s just a part of how I interact with people. In any topic of conversation, the question “What do you think?” will typically be directed at just about everyone, including me, at some point or other. As a result, I’ve felt the need to have opinions on subjects that are vastly outside my own experience.

Examples of these subjects would be: the challenges faced by women in the workplace; how legislation should be changed to accommodate homosexual people; abortion; solutions to the seemingly endless challenge of poverty; legalisation (or not) of recreational drug use; the position of Islam in global conflict.

Those subjects (which are but a tiny sample of a potentially endless list) have one thing in common: I have no useful knowledge about them.

And yet I so often allow myself to have an opinion that is based on nothing at all. And that opinion can so easily turn into judgement and prejudice.

I don’t have to have an opinion. I can simply not know. And that seems like a good starting point for tolerance. I can encounter people who are different to me without needing to decide if I approve of the ways in which they are different. I can simply be and offer them the space to be.

 

A tourist in my own city

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be a tourist visiting Cape Town. It’s something I struggle to imagine, because Cape Town is my home. I’m so accustomed to it it’s difficult to see it with fresh eyes. Today I’ve been able to do just that.

I’m on leave for a week. Back at work next Monday. I’m going up the coast later this afternoon and won’t be back until the weekend. But this morning, I’ve been living slowly.

Before going away, I needed to service my car. That’s happening this morning in central Cape Town. While it’s happening, I’m spending some time experiencing the city centre at a slow pace. I’m writing this post sitting in Long Street Cafe, drinking a coke.

What has struck me while wondering around Cape Town this morning is how relaxed this city is. It’s something I don’t often experience, because I have a busy job that keeps me anything but relaxed during the day, and when I’m not at work I’m at home in the suburbs which are nothing at all like the CBD.

There are a fair number of tourists around (I can tell they’re tourists either by their enormous backpacks or their foreign accents). A lot of restaurants, pubs, bars, craft shops, tour companies and various other organisations targeted at tourists are open and doing steady, but gentle, business.

I’ve seen people sitting in coffee shops, working on their laptops (much as I am now) and wondered if that’s how they make their living (it isn’t in my case).

I’m struck by the amount of gentle stimulation available. There’s music playing here, and it’s not too loud or demanding but instead adds to the relaxed atmosphere. There are people walking in and out of the restaurant and walking past on the street. No-one seems in a hurry but everyone’s going somewhere.

There are pictures on the walls of the restaurant that show Cape Town as it was many years ago. It’s familiar and at the same time completely different to the city I know now. There are TVs on the walls that are showing highlights of the Cricket World Cup that is currently on the go.

I feel like a tourist in my own city. I’m experiencing a lot at a slow pace and taking much of it in. It’s surprisingly pleasant. I’m starting to feel a desire to be a tourist in other cities; other countries; places I don’t know. I could learn a lot about myself that way.

Maybe it’s time to start planning a holiday. Not a packaged touristy holiday. A real holiday where I can experience other places as they are rather than as they’re presented by the tourist industry.

I’ve got a week to myself before I’m back in the busyness of work. I’ll put travel on my list of things to think about over the next few days.