March 21, 2006

A New Definition of Tolerance

Recently I was heading downtown on a relatively uncrowded train. I sat across from a somewhat spaced-out looking, zen hippie/hipster type chick. She clutched an organic market bag and twirled her Bettie Page-ish hair around her finger as she stared out the window.

I had been in a rush on my way to the train, as I'd been putting the final touches on my homework for my comedy writing class, and running a few minutes behind, as usual. As I settled in, I went through my pockets to rearrange my belongings, and double-check certain supplies, and then I reached into my bag for some reading material. Suddenly I realized I'd forgotten to turn my cell phone to silent mode, which I always do before boarding the train, so as not to annoy everyone when and if it rings.

I slipped it out of my pocket and hit the volume button several times to turn it from the "loud and vibrating" setting all the way down to silent. With each quick click, my phone chirped out with very brief, increasingly quieter tones.

Hippie girl snapped her neck around to me like I'd just committed a horrific faux pas, and sighed loudly with annoyance. You would have thought I'd just accepted a loudly ringing phone call and sat there chatting at top volume about topics grossly inappropriate in such a setting.

Her annoyance, in turn, annoyed me, especially given that what I was doing was actually an act of courtesy. The peace 'n' love bumper stickers on her messenger bag seemed pretty ironic at that moment. This girl, who I'm sure describes herself on her MySpace as tolerant, open-minded, and more-compassionate-than-thou, let five harmless notes from my cell phone trigger her seriously sour face and condemning sigh.

Maybe it's time we consider broadening our definition of tolerance, which, after all, should have much more profound implications than just global political stances, participation in peace demonstrations, and the selective purchase of political bumper stickers.

What's the point of living an earth-friendly life, denouncing political corruption and human rights abuses around the world, if you're going to immediately snap and engender ill will over some harmless fellow human making a tiny amount of noise next to you on the train?

If you're tolerant of people of different ethnic origins and religious practices, maybe you should try to learn to be cool with Uncle Bill the Republican, your neighbor the Beemer-driving yuppie, the dude munching McDonald's on the park bench next to you, and the girl on the train making a tiny amount of noise while turning her cell phone down out of consideration for you, as well. Just a thought.

Also, that Bettie Page hairdo? It looked better on Bettie Page. Cranky-ass wench.

No comments: