Yesterday, once more

7 10 2008

Lucretia, as usual, is forcing me to sharpen my thoughts in response to her own perspicacious observations.

So: the varieties of tolerance. I’ve been focussing on political tolerance, tolerance among citizens, and tolerance among strangers. The first might be a kind of structural or constitutional tolerance; the second, for those who move within a particular political or constitutional tolerance; and the third, for those about whom one knows little, and for which no relationship of even the minimal constitutional type is necessarily defined.

I haven’t said much about this third type, mainly because I’ve been preoccupied with the political and there’s nothing particularly political about this. Still a brief: A certain defensive wariness may be apt when among this last group, insofar as the encounters may happen ‘outside of the law’ (e.g., a deserted street or minimally populated area, with no obvious authority present), as it were. That these encounters may be ‘lawless’, however, doesn’t mean they have to be violent or aggressive or even threatening: One may wish only to move through or around strangers, and however much the strangers may eye one another, each nonetheless decides to leave the other alone. (This might be considered a literal ‘toleration of existence’, and a necessary precondition for politics.)

Perhaps somewhere in there should be tolerance of acquaintances (feel free to offer a better term): These are the people we work with or see regularly or engage in genial conversation, even if we wouldn’t invite them into our home and they wouldn’t invite us into their home. We might like one another ‘well enough’ or find each other ‘interesting’ or ‘worth talking to’, but wouldn’t, really, call a friend. Someone you know, kinda, and are satisfied with that.

Anyway, what poked at me from Lucretia’s comment was about the personal side of toleration. I noted that I wouldn’t be friends with someone who merely tolerated me, but Lucretia adds some shading to this statement:

As for wanting more than tolerance from my friends – maybe. I’m finding as I get older that I am more tolerant than I thought I could be. I can be friends with someone even if there are one or two things about them I really don’t like or even actively disapprove of, because they have other qualities that shine brighter, and because everyone has faults and blind spots, including me. But I agree, that if a person only tolerates something that I feel is the very core of my being, it’s going to be much harder to feel close to that person, and trust them.

I was getting at more the ‘very core of my being’ aspect, as opposed to the ‘I’ll put up with’ or ‘I’ll overlook this’ aspect of tolerance. My sense of not wanting to be friends with someone who merely tolerated me arises both out of a desire for dignity and from not wanting to feed my occasionally raging neuroses. Why hang out with someone who doesn’t think you’re, basically, okay to hang out with? Why do that to yourself?

But Lucretia’s right: Ain’t none of us perfect, so even dear friends are going to irritate us (and vice versa). What then to do? Nothin’. Let it pass. Be glad for the friendship, be glad the other person is as flawed as you, be glad you don’t have to be perfect to have a friend or be a friend.

When I was younger I used to say ‘I don’t judge.’ Hah! I judged all the time, but since I didn’t want to be judgmental, I wasn’t honest about it. As a result, I was never able to reflect on those judgments; they were unconsidered. Now I know I judge all the time, but I also let a hell of a lot more judgments go. So X is always late and Y never calls, but I know that, and I still want to be around them. So I set aside time for X and I’m the one who calls Y. At some point, I decided not to moralize these behaviors. Yeah, it’d be nice if X were prompt and Y could pick up the phone, but so what: the people matter more than the irks. (And I’m glad that goes both ways.)

Yeah, sometimes the irks overwhelm the people, and it becomes difficult to remain friends. And sometimes things just change so radically you have to reconsider everything. (I’m thinking of my friendship with someone who moved her Christian faith from the periphery to the center of her life. Another post, perhaps.) But at that point I think the issue is less a matter of tolerance and more a matter of compatibility.

Huh. Perhaps the distinction should be between tolerance of persons (which is not somethings friends do to one another) and tolerance of acts (which friends, citizens, and strangers may allow).

Does this help, or am I just fucking it all up again?