Friday, February 19, 2016

Is tolerance on vacation in the U.S.A.?

By Monica Vest Wheeler

I used to love the media but not much these days. As a former weekly newspaper reporter and editor, I soaked up news like a freshly brewed iced tea in the middle of a deserted desert. I wrote a million headlines and stories, and edited many more millions inches of copy … or at least it seemed like it. And like Clark Kent, aka Superman, of the Daily Planet, I believed in truth, justice and the American way …

Though I'm certainly not living under a pile of rocks, I'm on a media diet these days because most headlines make me nauseous, especially during this, the longest presidential election season in history. My internal frustrated calendar has been tallying the endless days, weeks, months, years …

I never share my politics though proclaim that both political parties and the circus of candidates parading under each banner reek of negativity and are ignorant of the real needs of their constituents. The name-calling and threats and lies and accusations are off the wall this time around. Is this for real? How can this be happening? Yes, fact is stranger than fiction, and we continue to shake our heads in disbelief … but it continues.

We are truly evolving into a nation of angry citizens, bursting forth with tempers that flare before a match is even lit these days. This campaign is stoking flames of intolerance that I've never witnessed in my life. I can't believe the comments people submit on social media and in news forums and in public settings. Cruel messages filled with hatred aimed at individuals and ethnic, religious, cultural and socio-economic communities only perpetuate the wave of animosity.

I spoke at a local high school a few weeks ago on the topic of tolerance. I began my presentation with examples of the horrors of the Holocaust, explaining to these young people how the most horrific chapters of human history were written with intolerance, hatred, inhumanity and blood. I described the personal stories of Holocaust survivors that I had interviewed and their never-ending grief of losing loved ones to murderous attacks just because they were Jewish.

I shared with them what a middle school student told me a few years ago: "We learn it from our parents." Yep, they do.

With the deepest sincerity of my soul, I said that tolerance is respect … tolerance is kindness … tolerance is listening …

I lamented that we are witnessing the birth of a nation of bullies … from the tiniest playgrounds to the tallest podiums.

I poured my heart out about the social isolation experienced by many of the individuals I've met across this country who have experienced brain injuries, illnesses and diseases … how terribly, terribly lonely they are in a society that can be unsympathetic to "imperfection." I decried the rise in teen bullying and increasing suicide rate.

Yet, I offered hope that each of us, each of those young hearts, has the power to save this world … and we possess the same power to destroy it. Personal responsibility has never been more important, nor is the reminder that no one is better or worse than anyone else. Get over yourself. 

Finishing my passionate talk, I watched a few students wipe away tears. And I knew right then that I had to get out and deliver that same message to more schools and teens again and again and again … and create an even stronger one for adults.

We who believe in compassion, communication and connections have to keep talking … and talking … and talking … even when it seems like tolerance is on an extended vacation in the U.S.A. My suitcase is packed and ready to go anywhere to help bring it home …

Does your organization or school need a speaker to address the timely topic of tolerance? I have a powerful message to share! Contact me today at or by visiting my website at or by calling toll-free 877-267-4640.