Saturday, November 14, 2009

Learing about tolerance from books ...

... Or at least from this one. I stayed up until midnight last night to finish this book, which says something about how good it was - one, because it was Friday night and typically from the hours of 7pm-midnight on Fridays I transform into an 80-year-old, and second, because I'd been awake since 3:40 am that day (thanks kitties). The Silence and the Scorpion evaporated my fatigue however, as it is both a gripping, page-turning action story and a haunting lesson on what can happen to a polarized society.

Brian Nelson walks us through the dramatic events of April 11-14, 2002 in Venezuela, describing the euphoria and then terror of the marchers on the presidential palace, the resentment of the president's supporters against the previous robber regimes, and the chaos that unfolded as Venezuela went through three presidents in as many days. In the end, Venezuela emerges from the crisis not stronger and more unified, but more polarized, as both the president's supporters and opponents vilify the other, each searching to shape the "truth" to fit their own needs. Nelson makes it clear that the deaths that resulted from the April tumult and the persecution that follows stem from a divided society, one where its members forget their shared humanity and only villify each other.

This story, of course, is nothing new in the history of the world. But by learning of it, and the others like it, I hope we can remind ourselves what comes from extreme division and rancor. When we slander our political opposites with crude exaggerations ("Nazi," "traitor," "liar," "stupid") we're working to strip them of their personhood, to allow ourselves to believe that we have all the right and they are abstractions of evil. What a load of nonsense ... I hope we can all remember that. So, angry Tea Partiers and judgmental Green Tea Sippers and everyone in between (look at me pulling out the stereotypes), how about taking a deep breath, reminding ourselves that our opponents do have some good motives, and trying to tolerate each other? If not, we could end up here.

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Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma