Perhaps I ask for tolerance in an unusual post. No poetry here, no movie review with lessons on life. No pretty photographs. They’ll come again next time.
I started writing this post the day before yesterday, and then I read about the tragic shooting in Colorado Springs this week. If I did not comment on the shooting it would be like pretending it didn’t happen and that is just wrong. It makes this post longer than usual.
A 22 year old male entered an LGBTQ bar at midnight November 19th, and opened fire, killing 5 people and injuring at least 17 others. It is shocking that someone would do such a thing. Frustratingly, I find that had this male been properly dealt with on three prior occasions, he would not be walking the streets. I can’t help but wonder about his mental health diagnoses. His mother reported to the media that he had threatened her in the past with a self-made bomb, and he was previously arrested twice, one of those times for kidnapping. How could this person be free to roam?
Back in the late 1980s, many state psychiatric hospitals were closed. I’ve mentioned before that as a nursing student I spent a clinical rotation at such a hospital in Maryland. I encountered caring and skilled professionals, and patients who were well cared for, treated and housed. As the patients worked through therapy they had increased privileges. Patients with certain diagnoses who clearly could not live independently, lived in group homes on the campus. They had goals, they had jobs, they had a nurse managing medications, they attended therapy and saw a psychiatrist regularly to check their treatment and medications.
Then so much changed and where are these types of folks now? Living in government subsidized housing and having to manage their own care, or living with family not skilled to take care of them. Many of these folks that would have been well cared for in the hospitals–are now in our penal system. So, we reduced one population (state hospital patients) to “save money” and look like we were supporting their rights better, but effectively put them in unreasonable positions for self-care, reducing the possibility of the most positive health outcome, burdening families with those who were clearly not manageable by non-medical professionals, thereby reducing the safety of the public and shifting that “saved” public cost to the penal system.
That’s about as specifically politically opinionated as I’ve ever written, but you see, I have helped to try to care for this population in my years as a home health nurse. It was at times heartbreaking. I cared deeply for these clients. Many such persons now have a decreased quality of life, diminished health outcomes and roam the streets. Though no system is perfect and all should be reviewed regularly for needed reforms, in my opinion these same people were, largely, better cared for in the 1980s. In addition, the public was safer from those who were seriously mentally ill.
Before the knowledge of this mass shooting, I was writing about intolerance and what I thought was at the root of it: Fear. What I started to write is included below.
If you are like most people, you probably think you are on the tolerant side, but we need to regularly challenge ourselves. Perhaps you are proudly intolerant. I have seen such people on every side of an argument whether Republican vs. Democrat, whether supportive of certain challenged human rights today, or whether one religion or another. What is tolerance if not tolerating that someone believes differently from your core beliefs? What about caring to understand the reasons they believe differently?
I think the mistake is to think that tolerance is giving up on what you believe to be true. One can be a Democrat but their best friend is a Republican who disagrees on issues around abortion. One can be LGBTQ but dearly love their sibling who does not understand them. One can be Baptist yet attend their friend’s infant baptism. I believe the key is to work backwards in dialoguing with “why” questions to find where common ground exists and the difference of opinion occurs. The Democrat and Republican friends in the example above agree that it is important to support citizens’ rights. The siblings agree that they grew up close, love each other and want the best for each other. The Baptist and the infant baptism friends agree that Jesus was God incarnate and gave up his life to save all people.
We can be nice and exhibit understanding. None of us is perfect. I caught myself saying something that I didn’t really mean the other day. It was a disparaging remark that I immediately retracted, apologized, and corrected. It is important to watch our speech and hold ourselves accountable to a respectful standard. I thought to myself, “Why did that come out?” Now, I won’t say what it was, but don’t worry, it was nothing that would get me fired from a job or blacklisted; it was enough that shamed me. So, why?
Many of us are used to growing up a certain way and thinking that it was all good then. We might forget that while it may have been good for us, there were populations of folks for whom it was awful. I do believe that fear plays a great part. Fear that the world will “get worse,” or change, or be uncomfortable. Fear that our children and grandchildren will suffer from the changes. Fear of our own rights being limited. Fear of judgement from God. Perhaps according to the latter, one feels that it is okay to be rude and confrontational because, well, they are saving that person’s soul.
Again, questions are a good way to broach these topics and seek understanding of the other person’s opinions. In the latter example, without asking the person if they even believe in God then no matter how much you quote chapter and verse it may make no difference in the argument. In fact, the person may be further alienated. Instead, try to exhibit caring and interest in that person’s story and beliefs and journey, then that relationship may be strengthened, leading to a better understanding of each other, and reasonable discussions.
When I made the comment I took back, I realized that it was from a level of discomfort with the world as it is. Fear. Often, fear leads to anger. Now we’re back to the awful shooting, and tying these posts together, today and the one I started two days ago. The shooter was probably angry and feeling hateful about the people or certain persons in the LGBTQ bar. I feel strongly that based on his reported history, if he didn’t have guns he’d have used pipe bombs, a truck, knives, whatever he could.
There is absolutely no excuse for his behavior. I am horrified, and watching the news I saw an anchorperson about to cry and the reporter on the scene with a face almost shaking in stoic reserve as she said that the crime will be investigated as a hate crime and the perpetrator will be tried and dealt with as he should be. I can only imagine the reactions of the parents, families and friends of the victims.
While we are challenged to trust our judicial system, are we challenged not to hate in response? It is certainly understandable to feel great anger. I’m shocked and angry with this shooter. Do I hate him? No. He’s a product of a flawed system, one that has not protected its citizens. He will be dealt with now, but he should have been far earlier. The system failed those victims in so many ways. What happened was wrong to the point of diabolical. Tolerance must include waiting for things to get better. Working constructively toward that in whatever ways we can will help. Praying for change will help.
Tolerance is coexisting with difference. It is also emotional continence. Incontinence in the medical world is the inability to hold the bladder or sometimes the bowels. I think the parallel is actually profound. Too often in public and on social media there is a literal spew of emotional incontinence. I think we are called to be better than that.
Tolerance is, referring again to a medical definition, the ability to withstand increasing levels of a medication in one’s system. Increasing levels? I wonder if there is a parallel to what people feel about the world changing. Once upon a time the older generation couldn’t tolerate Elvis Presley’s hips and dancing, and there was once a Hays production code in films. Now we have unbelievable displays in media such that our great grandparents would be incredibly shocked if they witnessed it.
Tolerance is the example of Jesus hanging out with sinners. He heard their stories, he showed compassion. He was from a lower-class town but he tolerated the snobs and the elite, as well. He spoke the truth. Yes, he did chase away the corrupted people out of the temple who were looking for profits and self-gain, who extorted others in a holy place. He said “Woe…” to those who took advantage of and injured others. But he loved them all. Can we challenge ourselves to love the souls of those we have differences with?
We need to tolerate these changing times, the unrest. A day at a time hope for and work toward a better world. Seek understanding. Seek to be a nice person who cares about others. We can challenge ourselves to love souls despite differences. We may not have the perfect world we want now, but there sure is a better chance of it if we can talk through disagreements, seek common ground, explore each others’ beliefs and concerns–and exhibit true tolerance and caring.