Shadows of Intolerance

“You have no idea how loud that is,” a man abruptly stated to a a younger man man listening to music on the train yesterday.

The older speaker continued, standing tall in his neatly pressed suit and well-worn baseball cap, angrily sighing between statements. “You don’t know, do you?  You have no idea how loud and annoying that is.”  He didn’t stop his verbal attack, despite confused looks from innocent bystanders, “It’s really like bees..just buzzing in my ear.”  His tone was condescending and disgusted at best. His upper lip slightly curled.

“No. I guess I wasn’t aware of that. Welcome to the twenty-first century, though,” the well kept bald man quietly responded. His demeanor was calm. On his wrist hung a rainbow colored strip of rubber; a cause bracelet that read, “Light, Love, Power, Presence.”  Not surprisingly, he smiled sadly.

The speaker sighed again loudly. Bystanders exchanged incredulous looks that said, “What does it matter?” and “Who cares?”  Then, shaking his head, he exited the train. His exit prompted another man to continue the conversation with several other people.

The two men could not have been more different, yet at the same time, more similar. One could have been the other’s son. Similar exchanges are going on in the political world, and inside homes across the country.

When did we lose touch with each other, with our parents, or with the generation that precedes us? When did we get so angry at people who don’t live their lives the same as we do?  Why can our Vice-President only see ”a future where no one—no one—is forced to live in the shadows of intolerance”?  When did living in the “shadows of intolerance” become our socially acceptable present?

At 7AM yesterday, my dad turned the dial to conservative talk radio. The night before, I stealthily battled his cable channel choice while he was sleeping. Though I know that liberals are the enemy in the household (and I think too much — like them), I tried to catch Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. I fell asleep around the 38th minute, and awoke to mumbling curses about the madness of that previous administration.

The week before, I had watched the Republican National Convention with as much interest. Why not take in both sides and form an independent opinion? Because that is not what we are told we should do. We must take sides in the “war,” and we must be either for or against someone now. We are conditioned to be totally disgusted by the other side, and accept that we are as tragically divided as we are. There are only two sides to this story. Pick one.

I said I didn’t want to hear the angry conservative radio (proliferating war mentality) that early in the morning. An angry outburst was the response. We didn’t agree to disagree. We disagreed to disagree. As a result, for over two hours, we rode in complete silence to get me to a train that would cart me back to Manhattan, where I live with liberals. Here, where I not only tolerate the diversity but celebrate it.

Maybe I am as intolerant as anyone else. Maybe one day, when I’m older and a bit more tired, I will challenge a stranger on the train for minding his own business; for listening to music too loudly on his headphones.

And maybe, when I walk away, he will tell another stranger how loud the diesel engines are that he works on for fifty hours a week. And I will never know why he is slowly losing his hearing, because I won’t stop and care enough to listen.