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 http://beyondtolerance.eventbrite.com
INFO: Call 650-842-7168 or go to www.ymcasv.org/paloalto/