Facing conditions we would like to change, letting go of people we wish were different, takes growth, patience, tolerance. We’re so easily enticed into thinking we’d be happier, “If only they’d change,” or “If I had a better job,” or “If the kids would settle down.” Yet we carry the seed of happiness within us every moment. Learning tolerance and being culturally sensitive for all conditions will nurture that seed.
Cultural insensitivity is saying, “People need to adapt to my way of life.” Cultural blindness is thinking that everybody’s the same. Cultural competency means respect for diversity and being willing to make adaptation in order to provide effective resources. We are culturally enriched when we have learned the ability to give and receive, to accept other cultures and share our own culture.
Two life-changing cultural experiences have certainly transformed my life. The first experience was years ago when I served as seminarian, deacon and associate pastor in the 1970s at St. Augustine’s Church in Louisville, the first African American Catholic church in Kentucky. During those years, I lived with other priests from Uganda and Ghana. I learned so much living outside my normal comfort level and was exposed to new ways of viewing life and developed a respect for diversity at all levels.
The second experience happened in the '90s during the AIDS crisis when I served as a volunteer chaplain for Hosparus Health at Glade House on Sixth Street in Louisville. At that time, Hosparus Health had a hospice inpatient unit there as many men were living and dying with the AIDS virus. My role was to make the end of life as positive an experience for these gentlemen as possible and simply to accept them for who they were.
Once again my sensitivities stretched as I reached out to the LGBTQ community in need. I was there at the time of their death, grieved with their families, and celebrated their lives at the funeral service.
I have learned first-hand that tolerance of others opens many doors, for them and for us. It nurtures the soul, ours and theirs. It breeds happiness.
It is a sign of our love to respect others’ right to choose for themselves, even to make choices we may not agree with. Perhaps a brother or sister likes music we hate, or a son or daughter wants to wear an unusual style of clothing. How often do we, in the name of love, try to force our choices on others? When we give the gift of letting loved ones choose what is right for them, it strengthens our ability to choose what is right for us.
We are each in the midst of our own unique lives, and our choices are based on our own experiences, so it’s only natural that they all be different. One of us may choose to go to jail for protesting nuclear weapons; another may choose to pray for peace. Both are working for the same goal.
There are so many eyes I’ll look into today that don’t know love. I will give some away with unconditional tolerance. It’s a gift – to me and to others.