COMMUNITY NOTEBOOK: Taking tolerance one step further

Workshop at Palo Alto Y aims to foster discussion in open environment

How does a community move past the mere acknowledgment of its diverse cultural mix and begin to use that diversity for positive social change? Answering that question, and starting that process, is the aim of a Sunday workshop hosted at the Palo Alto Family Y. Titled 'Beyond Tolerance,' the workshop's objective is to move past the concept of tolerance into a realm of mutual understanding and respect, organizers said.

"Just because someone is not rude to you, it does not mean that they accept you," said Samina Sundas, the founding executive director of California-based nonprofit American Muslim Voice Foundation, which is co-sponsoring the event.

"This is why whenever I hear the word 'tolerance,' I just cringe. As human beings, we should cherish one another, not just tolerate."

Reverend Bruce Bramlett, who will be facilitating the workshop, holds a similar viewpoint.

"Tolerance is a terrible word, and one that often bares some traces of hostility," he argues. "It is linked to a sense of thinking of others as despicable, as less than me."

The reverend lists several groups in the U.S. that encounter often unspoken bias on a day to day basis, including Muslims, Sikhs and Jains. "And despite all the talk about appreciation and acceptance, gay and lesbians are another group that is still marginalized," he said.

"The Latino community in this area especially has been victim to a number of the stereotypes commonly associated with illegal immigration," he added. "These ideas tarnish the entire community, and they become the scapegoats for all of society's problems."

An Episcopal priest, Bramlett currently lectures in the religious studies department of San Jose State University, his work has focused on such issues as the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and Israeli-Palestinian relations.

"This workshop is an exercise in building a community," he said. "What we aim for is an appreciation of all of our differences, of the things that make us unique, of what we as individuals bring to the table."

In one exercise, attendees will be asked to jot down their reactions to words, called out by Bramlett, associated with different ethnic, religious and gender-based groups. June Klein, a member of the board at the Y, recalled this week how a similar exercise proved to enlightening.

"You have no time to think, as you literally have to write out the first thing that comes to mind," she said. "It was very eye-opening to see what we all wrote down."

Attendees will also watch short videos before moving on to large- and small-group discussions, during which they can discuss their thoughts and experiences with people of diverse backgrounds. Those who have already registered to attend include members of the area's Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Navajo and various Christian communities.

The event itself seeks to serve as an environment for "transformative" learning, in which people are asked to think about their own biases and assumptions and engage in critical self reflection in a safe, respectful environment, Klein said.

"Essentially, transformative learning is the process by which someone begins to question whether what they thought was true before is still true now.

"When someone says something that is politically correct, it masks understanding," she said. "What we want to do is to get past the politically correct, for people to say what they truly believe and see how it differs from what others believe."

"The message is very clear: to build relationships, to go beyond merely tolerating the presence of one another," Sundas said. "If we are worried about safety, about raising our children, about taking care of our seniors, the answers lie in getting to know each other."

The workshop is part of the Y's larger goals of promoting intercultural dialogue, Klein said.

"The goal is for people to find inspiration from the differences and get to a place where we all agree."

WHAT: Beyond Tolerance Workshop, hosted by the Palo Alto Family Y and facilitated by Episcopal priest and Holocaust educator Bruce Bramlett

WHERE: Palo Alto Family Y, 3412 Ross Road, Palo Alto

WHEN: Sunday, May 15, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

COST: Free, but registration required by logging in to

INFO: Call 650-842-7168 or go to

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Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 13, 2011 at 11:18 am

Cherish people, not ideologies. All ideologies must be questioned. Some ideologies must be challenged. And challenging some ideologies is not wrong. Calling the challenge of an ideology wrong, is not tolerant.

Cherishing all ideologies is impossible. By definition, some will not square with the plumbline, and whether we like it or not, there is a plumbline.

Like this comment
Posted by Sean
a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2011 at 6:13 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Scott
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 16, 2011 at 4:47 pm

The traditional usage of the term "tolerance" has been corrupted. More and more these days, it is used to enforce a general moral permissiveness, where behaviors that used to be considered objectionable are now being shielded under the banner of tolerance. We need to get back to the Biblical-based definitions of right and wrong, and speak out against those behaviors that are immoral. Some things should not be tolerated, but rather corrected.

Like this comment
Posted by say what?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 16, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Is Scott saying that being non-white or non-Christian is immoral? Is that the Tea Party philosophy?

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Neither morality nor immorality is the sole possession of any race or ethnicity. I saw NO reference to race in Scott's message. Do I detect racial hypersensitivity in say what's message?

Like this comment
Posted by Scott
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 16, 2011 at 5:52 pm

To the commenter named "say what":

Nowhere in my comment did I speak of race. That is a bias that you brought to the conversation - I hope you will acknowledge that.

This country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. If you have any doubt, just look at the inscription "In God We Trust" on the money that people use everyday. That isn't to say that our government or all people in the past have always followed the teachings in the Bible, but it is the moral framework that has traditionally underpinned our culture and legal system in this country, until in more recent decades.

The modern notion of "tolerance" seeks to remove those enduring moral guideposts, and replace them with an ever changing mix of humanistic (and atheistic) rules doled out by academics and politicians who have attempted to seize the authority to define fundamental notions of right and wrong behavior but who are mainly serving themselves.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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