The recent election season was very heated and polarizing. Friends were unfriended. Relatives had minor feuds. Death threats, insults and lawsuits were thrown around. People were judged as elitists, idiots, fascists, cultists, cowards, unpatriotic, and so on based on the candidate they supported. Some people shot to fame. Others drowned in shame.
It was as if the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” had come true.
Nothing divides people more than religion or politics, and the truth of this adage came alive before my eyes. Yet amidst all this divisiveness, I also heard other voices — voices that uttered words such as tolerance, compassion, healing and unity.
I used to be pretty intolerant. I was bullied as a kid, not physically but verbally (in hindsight, it wasn’t even serious bullying — it was just some older guys having a little fun and calling me names). But I hated my bullies with all the passion a 6-year old could muster. I didn’t want to see them. The very sight of them would send my blood boiling. I wished them dead. I was that intolerant of them, and it took me a while to get over that feeling whenever I saw them.
I grew up in a conservative evangelical church. I was pretty intolerant of other faiths and even other Christian denominations. But going to a Catholic school filled with mostly (what else?) Catholics, I of course made friends with them, but when it came to religion, I was pretty sure they had it wrong. I was that intolerant.
I remember when I joined Toastmasters — the standard program included an invocation to start the meeting. The recommendation was to deliver an invocation that was neutral and did not favor a religion — in order to be inclusive to a general audience. I didn’t follow the recommendation and continued to pray in my own fashion, invoking Jesus’ name. I was that intolerant.
I was intolerant of the LGBT community (though they weren’t called that back then). My bible condemned them. I thought they were weird, social aberrations. I remember attending a leadership seminar where there was in attendance, a man dressed as a woman. Part of the seminar activity was for us to be blindfolded and walk around the room to clasp hands with someone. The person we clasped hands with would be our partner for the entire duration of the seminar. I remember thinking and praying I wouldn’t get the cross dresser. I was that intolerant.
Fast forward to today. I’ve given up religion and prayer. I have good friends who are gay males and females. I even learned that my childhood friend was gay, and I felt no repulsion whatsoever, and was in fact happy that he had found himself. Perhaps, I have become more tolerant and accepting.
Last night, a few of us former classmates gathered at the wake of one of our classmate’s mother. Most of us were Digong supporters, but one was a RoRo supporter. One confessed that she had voted Marcos for VP, and some mentioned others who also did. But there was no condemnation from any of us. We joked and laughed and swapped stories. Friendships and relationships should go far beyond politics and religion after all. We recognize that underneath all its trappings, we are fellow humans trying in our own best way to figure out what this thing called life is all about.
From that recognition comes tolerance.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.