Teaching Tolerance: Why It’s Everyone’s Responsibility

I’ve been appalled by recent news of suicides among young people who have been bullied because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or because others perceive them to be LGBT.  It is a tragedy that students are being bullied or harassed without mercy because of their sexual orientation or gender identity – or simply because of who their tormentors think they are. Sadly, most of this bullying is occurring in schools and my concern is why are the teachers and school administrators allowing this? Are they not paying attention to what is going on under their own roof? 

We’ve all experienced bullying to some extent. Whether directly or indirectly we all know when someone is being picked on, ostracized, or tormented. We’re not blind. So again, I ask why do those in positions of authority choose to ignore it and allow it to go on? School is supposed to be a safe haven for our children, a place where they can feel safe and protected. However, as witnessed by these recent events  this is not the case.

School has become a cess pool of intolerance only made worse by the teachers and authority figures that fail to take action and do something. Why are these behaviors being tolerated? Why isn’t tolerance for a person’s cultural, lifestyle, or gender differences being taught? Aren’t these things just as important to teach as Math, Science, and English?

In a world, where there are protests about where to build an Islamic place of worship is it not necessary to teach tolerance? I’m inlcined to think so. Now more than ever it is crucial to teach our youth about tolerance.

Tolerance is defined as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own.” In short, it means to live and let live. This is a simple and straight forward definition, so simple in fact that I’m sure even my 7 yr. old niece would be able to understand it. Nevertheless there are many who have been unable to comprehend this meaning.

The concept of tolerance is one that begins at home and one that should be taught by parents, family members and teachers alike. We all have a responsibility to teach tolerance even if our beliefs differ from that of another. Why is it our responsibility? Because we are all a part of the same humanity.
Regardless of race, color, religious belief, sexual orientation or any of the other things that make us different, unique and special we are first and foremost human beings. We all want to feel accepted and love and we all just want to live a good life. Yet there are some who feel that not everyone is entitled to such basic human rights.

As far back as 1776 when our Declaration of Independence was written, even our forefathers acknowledged these basic human needs by stating the following:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

“All men are created equality”, pretty self-explanatory and yet some feel that they have more rights than others. Since the very days when these words were written, this country has been fighting bigotry and intolerance. For centuries people have not stopped seeking equality for the disenfranchised and marginalized citizens of this country. And although we have made strides for equal rights for blacks, and women, we still have a long way to go for Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual & Transgender Americans. For these minorities it is still an everyday battle. It is apparent that for them we must continue fighting against intolerance.

When I turn on the news or read a newspaper and in one month it is reported that 4 teens have committed suicide because of their sexual lifestyle, I am really bothered, upset, and angered by this. In September alone 4 boys—15-year old Billy Lucas in Indiana, 13-year olds Asher Brown in Texas, Seth Walsh in California, and 18 year old Tyler Clementi—took their own lives.

The first 3 committed suicide because they were being subjected to relentless anti-gay bullying in school. While Rutgers student, Tyler Clementi, took his life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after video of a sexual encounter recorded by his roommate streamed on the internet for the entire world to see. These boys all must have felt that it would be easier to take their own lives rather than live through being tormented, outed and humiliated by their peers.

Tyler Clementi was a freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey. A student there for a little more than a month, I’m sure this was not what he pictured his college life as being. No one ever thinks that their privacy will be violated in their own bedroom and yet it was. For his roommate, the prankster, I wonder what made him think that videotaping the sexual encounter and streaming it on the web was a good idea. What kind of values and morals where you raised with? Why someone would violate another’s privacy like this, I will never understand.

What may have started out as a simple college prank, obviously ended with life altering consequences for all parties involved, with Tyler Clementi paying the ultimate price, his life. As I contemplated about what I wanted to say on this topic I realized that somewhere along the line someone or a group of people failed all of these teens; not only the victims but the tormentors as well. These children were not taught about tolerance. Not one was taught that it is ok to be different, that not everyone is going to believe in the same things that you may believe in. And in the end, who are we to judge. The way one chooses to live THEIR life is THEIR choice. And in my opinion when it comes to sexual preference I do not believe it is a choice. I am of the belief that you are born who you are but I’ll save that for another time.

These victims for one reason or another found it difficult to accept who they were. If they had then they never would have resorted to taking their own lives. Suicide is an action of the weak; an action for those who rather not deal with reality because the reality is too hard. The parents, family, and other adults in their lives failed them. These children lacked the self-esteem to know that being different was ok even if others failed to realize that.

It’s difficult to be a teenager; straight or gay. The teasing at times can often be relentless, hurtful and can make kids feel like giving up. And to these kids I say that it eventually stops. It does get better. Life is so much more than those awkward teenage years when we’re all struggling to find our place in the world. Those who tease or bully others have deeper issues going on within them and to parents I say to you, be very involved in your children’s lives. Question them, talk to them, love them, and be there for them.

Sometimes it’s hard because of work and other family responsibilities but you have to make time for your kids. Get actively involved in their lives. Let them know that it’s ok to be different if they are. Teach them to love themselves as they are and teach them to accept those who are different. Teach them tolerance.

Teach them that tolerance means respecting and learning from others, valuing differences, bridging cultural gaps, rejecting unfair stereotypes, discovering common ground, and creating new bonds. Tolerance, in many ways, is the opposite of prejudice.

Tolerance does not mean that all behaviors have to be accepted.

Behaviors that disrespect or hurt others, like being mean or bullying, should not be tolerated. Tolerance is about accepting people for who they are — not about accepting bad behavior. Tolerance also means treating others the way you would like to be treated.

Like all attitudes, tolerance is often taught in subtle ways. Even before they can speak, children closely watch and imitate their parents. Kids of all ages develop their own values, in great part, by mirroring the values and attitudes of those they care about.

Parents’ attitudes about respecting others are often so much a part of them that they rarely even think about it. They teach those attitudes simply by being themselves and living their values. Parents, be great role models to your children.

Parents who demonstrate (or model) tolerance in their everyday lives send a powerful message. As a result, their children learn to appreciate differences too. This is why I say that we all have a responsibility in teaching tolerance. Children look to those in positions of authority or to those who they respect for clues as to how they should act, they emulate us. Therefore, it is our responsibility to teach them right from wrong. When we don’t then situations such as the ones I described in this article occur. Let’s not lose another life because of intolerance.

3 thoughts on “Teaching Tolerance: Why It’s Everyone’s Responsibility

  1. Great article! Listening to these recent stories in the news has been very disturbing. I agree that educators and parents have a responsibility to accept and teach our children to respect and the beliefs of others. Teach them its OK to have an opinion and that we may not always agree with how others choose to live thier lives, however, we must respect another’s lifestyle in the same way you want your own life respected by others. Sadly. as evident by the number of teenagers that have recently taken their own lives, this is easier said then done.


    1. Zaida, you would think that it would be as simple as respecting another’s lifestyle as you would want for your own but today’s society is so self-involved that respect for others has disappeared. I wonder what the parents of the 2 individuals responsible for the video that appeared on web think about their children and who raises children that think invasion of privacy is funny or amusing. Any sex tape distributed for the world to see without one’s consent, straight or gay, is not a laughing matter especially for those that are on the tape. I just don’t get it.These kids/young adults think that they can do anything without any repurccusions. It’s time that they took responsibility for their actions. And I hope they have nothing but sleepless nights for their part in the suicide of this young man. It really is a tragedy.


  2. This was an excellent post and it sheds a light on a very real problem. More people need to be as angered as you were and take action. No one ever wants to get involved because they feel as if doesn’t affect them personally. But this is not a gay/lesbian issue, it’s a human issue, a civil rights issue. Thanks for sharing your thought and keep up the great work.


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