Thursday, June 3, 2010


"You can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding."
-They Might Be Giants, "Your Racist Friend"

Yesterday, I posted this on Facebook, setting my status so that only my "unschoolers" group could see:

"A simultaneously fortunate and unfortunate side effect of being around unschoolers is that you begin to have much higher standards for how people should behave and treat each other. It's good because you put up with less crap and are more careful with your own actions, but hard when you become increasingly uncomfortable around people you used to get along great with :/"

Immediately, many people said they knew the feeling.

Now, the only reason I'm elevating "unschoolers" above anyone else is because the kinds of behaviors I find abhorrent are far, far less common in the unschooling community than they are among other groups I'm part of, and because even though I have always been a tolerant, diversity-loving person, it is unschoolers who have truly taught me how to accept people warts and all. Ah, but there's the rub: Does "tolerance" mean tolerating intolerance? Does "warts and all" mean you put up with people whose main flaw is that they are unkind?

Sometimes I wonder if maybe I'm expecting too much of people, if I should be more accepting of people the way they are, knowing that I've probably done stupid things too without realizing how bad they seemed. But how do you stay friends with someone who thinks it's funny to scream and gag when they see a large woman walking her dog? Or someone who, after years of championing LGBT rights, maliciously calls someone a faggot and starts throwing around the word "tranny" even though she knows better? How about someone who used to be your good friend but you've realized she wouldn't be if you were a different color? Someone who laughs when you tell them your grandmother's "what I was doing when Pearl Harbor was bombed" story, then thinks you're silly for getting mad? These are all real examples from real friends in my recent life.

Now, lest it sound like I just hang out with really horrible people, I also have a lot of really beautiful amazing wonderful people who would sooner cut off their own arms than say any of this stuff, and of course not all of those people are unschoolers. But see, that's the thing: All of the people who said and did those horrible things had previously seemed like better people than that. I expected better of them. And that's why it hurt so much, and disappointed me so deeply, to see them act that way. I like to believe people are good, and I like to look for the good in people. But I can't deal with this kind of negativity in my life, nor do I think I should.

I don't have any answers for this. I don't know how to handle it. I don't want to be the kind of person who just cuts people off when they don't live up to my standards, nor the kind of person who is all serious business and can't take a joke. Some jokes shouldn't be taken, though. Some friends shouldn't be had. And if I implicitly support the people who do these kinds of things, then I'm also hurting my other friends. It hurts my plus-size friends if I don't speak out against fat hate. It hurts my gay and trans friends if I put up with homophobia and transphobia. It hurts my black, Latino, and Asian friends when I'm silent against racism and xenophobia. It hurts my Muslim, Jewish, Christian and pagan friends when I am silent against people who disparage them. It hurts children when I tolerate people being mean to their kids.

How do you guys handle this kind of thing? How do you balance between standing up for what's right and being diplomatic? Where do you draw the line between something you can overlook and something you can't tolerate? I'm really stuck for ideas, so I'd appreciate any that anyone has.

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