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July 16, 2010

A Question of Tolerance

from Jacqueline                     

 I’ve never been to the Museum of Tolerance, but I’ve heard that, when you enter, there are two doors – one for those who consider themselves tolerant, and one for the poor souls who cannot abide those whose color, creed, sexual preference, nationality, political beliefs (etc., etc.) are different from their own.  And I have heard that if you try to get into the first door, in the belief that you are above reproach when it comes to tolerance, the door is actually locked.  It is a way of communicating that we all have our limits when it comes to tolerance, and we all harbor prejudices.

 I was thinking about this whole conundrum at the airport in Scottsdale a few weeks ago – I’d been in the city for the Poisoned Pen Bookstore’s Mystery Conference, where a very good time was had by all. Now, those of you who have read my posts on nakedauthors.com, will know that in the past few years I have developed a pathological fear of flying.  I hate it.  I think I actually almost stop breathing from take off (sheer terror) to landing (yes, it’s even more dangerous than take-off, if you know your air disaster stats, and of course, I do), and am always relieved to the point of needing a congratulatory margarita as soon as I am on terra firma again.  All of this is rich, really, when you consider that in younger days I was a flight attendant, and if you want to get off a ‘plane in an emergency, then stick with me, I’m your gal.  But I digress.

 The reason I was thinking about this question was that, as I was waiting, boarding pass in hand, anticipating a joyous reunion with my husband and dog (God Willing), a young man plonked himself down next to me. He was a Muslim, and I think from Pakistan. He was dressed as if for the annual conference of young Madrassa teachers, with a delicately crocheted cap on his head, a long black gown covering black pants and a white collarless shirt. He wore black shoes and had soulful deep brown eyes.  He smelled of freshly baked sweet bread. I remember that, because it reminded me of bread I bought in a Caribbean shanty town when I was about, oh, twenty-one or so.  It was a delicate treat, spongy and light and drizzled in honey and sultanas, and I ate it while sitting on a deserted beach on a humid morning while a light rain kissed my skin.  The interesting thing is that my friend and I had taken a chance in setting foot in that shanty town, because it was said that white women, especially, were at risk there; but we were young and trusting and we assumed the world was our oyster.  And we were a hungry pair of breadaholics. Funny, the things you remember in airports, when you are trying to think positive.

 The young man took out his iPod, pressed the earphones into place, and proceeded to nod his head in time to whatever he was listening to, which I hoped was not the collected rantings of Osama bin Laden.  Now, I keep up with the thriller writers, and I’ve seen my fair share of nail-bitingly tense espionage movies, and I know that you can do a lot with a bit of technology. Heck, in the TV series, State of Play, some guy brought down an airplane over Washington DC with one click of the space bar on his laptop.  What, pray, did this young man have on his iPod that might persuade me that it might be in my interests to wait for the next flight?  At this point I remembered those many times, in the late 1970’s and early 80’s when I commuted back and forth to London via train, and everyone automatically kept their eyes peeled for any items left behind by a departing passenger.  Such vigilance was transparent, it was just what you did, without forethought.  Bombs were almost an everyday occurrence, so you knew you had to be your own security.  And I remembered my friend, Diane, telling me about being on one of the first underground trains following the bombings in London a few years ago; how, just before they went into the tunnel, everyone looked at everyone else, and there was a collective holding of breath until the next station, when everyone was smiling at each other because no one had blown them up.

 So, I sat there, with my thoughts and reflections, next to my young man in his long robe and pretty cap, and I wondered about my prejudices.  I thought to myself that, if I made some sort of connection with him, he might not be inclined to do anything to speed my departure from this earth, which was followed by a thought that it probably wouldn’t matter, because he might believe he was  doing me a favor by sending me up to the angels (one hopes he thought I was going up and not down) for a joyous welcome.  (Hi Jack, sorry it had to be so rushed, but we thought it was about time we saw you again!).

 The flight went well, all things considered, though I thought we were flying a bit low over the desert (as if I would know!).  And when we reached San Francisco I watched as the young man was greeted by perfectly ordinary parents who were not dressed in robes or crocheted hats; to be honest, his mother could have passed for an Eileen Fisher model. 

 I felt quite ashamed of myself, especially as my overriding memory is that of the aroma of sweet honeyed bread with sultanas.  It wasn’t that I deliberately meant to be intolerant or prejudiced, but I allowed my fears to envelop me. Admittedly the overriding fear had nothing to do with people who bore a striking resemblance to the photographs of radical followers of Islam, but had everything to do with my feet leaving the ground.  And perhaps that is what true tolerance asks of us, that we suspend all judgment and allow the ground under our feet to fall away, trusting that we are safe, all of us, together.




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Ah, Jackie, what a beautiful post!

And I recommend hypnosis for the flying phobia. Helped me tremendously--I used to start throwing up three days before I had to get on a plane. Great woman in Boulder fixed it for me (about a month of two sessions a week, IIRC), and also did that finger motion stuff for PTSD which seemed to help a great deal as well.

Glad to see I'm not alone with my fear of flying, Jackie and Cornelia. I'm still waiting for a train across the North Pole so I can get to Europe without flying. As for tolerance, I suspect we all share that secret shame, too. Good post.

I also am waiting for the train to become the main mode of travel. I dislike flying sooooo much that I always plan the extra time to get there any other way. Prejudice is one of those things you have to look at in yourself on purpose or you forget its there. Thanks for the blog. My husband and got into such a great disussion he was late for work. And the finger tapping works very well. I used it for some of my PTSD symptoms as well and it really helped.

We all probably think we can get through that locked door, but really, do you know anybody who truly can? Maybe it defines hubris? Oh, dear.

Somebody's going to have to explain the finger tapping thing to me. ??

Jackie, such a good and honest post. Thank you.

I wonder if his mother wishes he wouldn't dress like that! It must scare her to know he's a target for fear and suspicion. Or not. I may be projecting how I'd feel if he were my son. Well, I *am* projecting, lol, because that is how I'd feel.

It takes a lot of self-confidence or stubbornness or passion for one's religions or *something* to board an airplane in that apparel in this era--which he has a perfect right to do, but which is also probably one reason he raised your fear level. On the other hand, he was probably the most vetted person on board.

Don't shoot me, but I have to say this--the thing that cured me of late-onset fear of flying was taking a few flying lessons.

Finger tapping?

The finger-movement treatment is called EMDR I found a pretty balanced article on it online. I found it helpful, and I'm pretty skeptical about new agey stuff, but I did it with a very compassionate woman and it might just have been useful having a framework to discuss/reprocess some traumatic events that made me anxious in my teens (lots of car crashes with other people driving and a particularly noxious stepfather, etc.)

Here's the URL:


I have flown everywhere all over the world and actually met some delightful people in route but I do agree with the margarita reward.
I thought I had some extra time and wanted to volunteer as an airport ambassador for MIA. I even invented a clown character called Mama Mia (get it?) for the job which was explained to me as an information booth kind of position meeting and greeting and giving directions to concourse F. I grew up in that airport. My grandmother worked for Pan Am and we did crash evacuation training drills for new stews all the time. (The slide chutes were my favorite.) I bought my cliff notes for high school at the news stands and played on parked planes when you could go down any corridor and no one blinked.
So if I won the best Ambassador of the year American Airlines gave you a free flight. I really want to go to Boston to see my son. Four hours a week in a clown suit? I can do that.
Then the training. I'm there thinking maps of gates and where to get a taxi.
Think again. It is a video of people blowing up people in airports.
Yeah...we are looking for terrorist and bombs and anything suspicious.
Okay. Now I'm too busy working to go but I'm wondering if I really want to now. Prejudiced? Not me. Scared to die? Guilty.

There are some sad realities in racial profiling. There is a tremendous amount of crime committed by young African American males. There have been terrorist acts committed by young Muslim men. If you watch only these two groups, you will miss the bomb by the red headed zealot.

"Trust no one" is not a bad thing in personal safety.

I can't really help you with the fear of flying thing. I am a licensed pilot. My college degree is in Aeronautics. I know about five people killed in air crashes, or about half as many as I know who have been killed by cars. I also know that the drives to and from the airports are riskier than the flight between the two airports.

Statistics for 2001.

Fatalities on Airlines: 566 (315 on 9/11/01)
Fatalities by automobile: 42,116

I have a theory that fear of flying is mostly about a fear of lack of control. I know it is for the people I know who are terrified of being on a plane. My oldest daughter, for instance. But I love to fly, and still get a little thrill when the plane lifts off. Hey, we all have to go sometime, right? One thing I'm not is afraid to die. Lost that when I sat with my grandmother while she passed away.

As for prejudice, I used to say that I was only prejudiced against lazy people, but if I were really honest I'd revise that quite a bit, expanding it to several other categories, none of which have as much to do with race as with personal habits or beliefs. I'm more prejudiced against people with weird, inconsistent and irrational ideas than I am with any particular set of people. Any group that espouses pain and suffering to others, largely because of the color of their skin or their religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) draws prejudicial feelings from me. I'm more of a live and let live kind of gal, and I wish others were, too.

I confronted my own prejudices (which I thought didn't exist) the day I was walking to the store and a very large black man was walking toward me and I just wanted to cross the street. Broad daylight, other people around, busy street...police substation 2 doors down.

And it hit me that I wouldn't feel the same if it was a white man of the same size coming toward me. It made me very ashamed of myself.

Thanks for your comments.

So, how do you do this finger movement therapy?

The thing that bothers me about profiling, is that it seems to zero in on one profile. When I worked for an airline, the collective memory of groups like Baader Meinhof, Black September, the Red Brigade and numerous hijackings were still quite raw, and of course the IRA were at it with their bombs - and none few of the people in those groups would fit today's profile. In my flight attendant training courses, we had special hi-jacking drills - which I thought would be so ineffectual if push came to shove, I actually rolled up laughing in one session.

I've had some flying lessons, actually, and I've been at the controls of a DC-10 - yes, in flight, but I won't go into that right now, so I have an idea of what that end of things is all about. And I know that the most dangerous part of flying is the drive to the airport (this from a woman who has horseback riding accidents with a worrisome frequency). So there's no explanation for my fear of flying, except it came on during my first really long and grueling book tour.

Jackie, such deep questions. I was listening to the radio yesterday, a piece on "Islam-ophobia" and it startles me, how acceptable it is, among reasonable people, to maintain an anti-Muslim prejudice, and to lump all Muslims together and assume they support terrorism. Then again, Muslim extremism DOES terrify me. Not just what they're willing to do to "the enemy" but what they do to their own followers, especially women.

An hour after the radio piece, I was at my 10-year old's basketball practice, talking to one of the basketball moms, and I asked her where she's from originally, given her accent, and she said, "Iran" and I asked her if she encounters prejudice here, or if anyone treats her unkindly and she looked startled and said, "No, why? Has someone been unkind to you?" She was concerned that I'm having a hard time in a new neighborhood; I was concerned that she was. It was a funny and awkward moment, but it occurs to me that ten years ago, I wouldn't have even asked such a direct question.

I'd like to say I put my trust in a higher power when I fly (and I do...I pray like crazy on take-offs and landings) but the only reason I fly is to get to places my daughter is...or wants to go. I was so busy watching the little 'this is where we are over the ocean' screen on our trip to the UK that I didn't sleep (she thinks it was because of the excitement. I know it was the fear of a water landing).But I too get a bit anxious when certain people get on a plane with me as I fly out of O'Hare or Midway...anyone who has been thru US security lately knows it isn't thorough enough to detect all the techie gadgets that could blow us out of the sky. We still need to take a lesson from the Brits and the French, who are downright rude sometimes but seem to get it done better than we do. And it doesn't help that sometimes these certain people almost dare us to accuse them of planning something. And I am prejudiced...we all are in some way. My biggest bias right now goes to the businessman who sits down, takes his shoes off and then crosses his leg so I can see his sock and his hairy leg. Puhleeze! And Judith, I know exactly what you mean...I've felt the same way myself.
Thanks for the insightful post, Jacqueline. As much as I'd like to go through that first door, I'm afraid I'd end up going through the second.
Have a great weekend all!

On a recent trip I was at the Miami airport, preparing to go through yet another security gate. The TSA agent was a young woman, who was repeating the mantra about shoes, plastic bag, etc., and being thoroughly ignored by the other passengers. I always try to thank these people, since they have a ridiculously difficult and onerous job, so I remarked to her that her job was a lot like being a mom, in that no one pays attention then, either. She laughed in a tired way, and said "I just do my job. If they can't listen, that's not my problem."

I get really ticked about irate passengers who make the process worse than it ought to be, mostly be not paying attention, or by outright refusal to follow the rules. They exist for our safety, and sure, some of them are ridiculous, but at least let the people do their jobs. It's just dumb to try to get away with things, or to think they are not meant to follow the rules, for some reason. Wha?

There is an easier version of EMDR called Emotional Freedom Technique. You can find out more about it on the web. I don't use it reguarly in my practice (I'm a counselor) but have training in it and do use it sometimes.

Jacqueline, I used to love travelling by plane. I wasn't a flight attendant, but my work at one point required me to fly all over the country about two weeks out of the month, and I thought it was just plain exciting and even a little glamorous in my quiet world. But, a very few years later, I had a panic attack prior to my first long-haul flight to Europe, and things have only gone downhill from there. I haven't had a lot of money for travel in recent years, but I don't know that that would make a difference in my devotion to walking, driving, trains, over air travel.

I hear terrific things about EMDR, and lots of psychotherapists here in L.A. recommend it readily.

GoP's mention of EFT reminds me--you can learn that technique from the original source at www.emofree.com if you wish. I've used it with some benefit and taught it to a few of my patients, but I tend towards feeling that EMDR or EFT work best in the context of a therapist who can help clarify and guide sessions for maximum effectiveness.

On my first post-9/11 flight, maybe a week later, I was one of the big terminals at LAX, standing in a long line amidst the noise and activity, when things suddenly went very quiet. I turned around to see that the individual right behind me was an orthodox Jewish man with dark robes, side curls, etc., and right behind him, in a remarkable twist of unfortunate timing, was a thin, anxious, nervous young man in dark clothing, swarthy skin, wearing a hospital wrist bracelet. No doubt, everyone around us who were holding their breath thought one or both of these guys was a terrorist. I tried to start a conversation, as I recall, but both men seemed literally to be squirming in discomfort as all eyes were on them, so I ended up just feeling badly for them and for all of us nervous souls that day.

I am doing EMDR right now for childhood PTSD, it is working wonders.

I am not a fan of flying, not because I am scared of it, it is SO boring and the drone of the engines makes me nuts. Next flight will involve noise cancellation headphones.

When I was in high school, 1977, in the red neck city I lived in there was one, yes only one black family, two kids. There was lots of native, asian, east indian etc but only one black family. For graduation there was a big gossip fest of indignation because the son took a white girl to the prom as his date. I found it sad that they all got so upset because really, unless he took his sister as his date, what were his options. This wasn't a small school either, about 1700 kids in 2 grades.

I was very happy to move to Vancouver in 1986 and get away from such a red neck oppressive place. But I admit, there is still not a lot of black people in the city, apparently there are over 40 nationalities here. Back when I first moved to Vancouver I had friends that were Iranian, the sweetest people you could want to meet, it gave me a different view of things when 911 happened.

The prejudice I had to work hardest to get over was the fear of old men. Being sexually abused by my step grandfather left me with a big fear of old men and I always thought of them as very threatening. Now that I am 50 if I want to date men my age, they now fall into the age group that my grandfather was in. Hence the PTSD, EMDR work with a psychologist.

Gaylin, what an observant and aware life you've had so far! Good luck with the EMDR therapy.

Your and Harley's comments about Iranian friends take me back to when I first moved to L.A. in 1984. For some reason, there was a veritable flood of aggressive Persian men on the L.A. freeways in expensive cars, and you did not want to get in their way--I don't know how many there were, but every time I got on the freeway to head to the university (which was at least once daily, five days a week), I saw or encountered them--they would literally butt your car with theirs if you didn't get out of the way, and drove at high rates of speed, aggressively changing lanes, etc. This was likely more a cultural artifact of new arrivals than anything else, but it terrified me, and I developed a very negative view of 'those men' and their 'hostile' culture by association. At the same time, I met an absolutely lovely fellow grad student who was a sweet, generous-hearted, woman, undoubtedly one of the smartest people I've ever known. It took me nearly ten years to realize that 'those men' that I was busy hating and fearing were from the same country, same history, as this lovely friend.

Laraine, that was shortly after a big diaspora of Iranians to the US because of the Shah being deposed. I had several friends who came to the US back in the late 70's, early 80's.

A friend married an Iranian shortly after we got married in 1982, and they had a lovely life together. We lost touch, but I've often wondered how things went for them after 9/11.

I'm guessing my own kids will have a different take on things, because since preschool their classmates have been Noor, Mohammed, Milad, Yusef, Shalev, and Pranav, along with the Dylans, Connors,Taylors and Olivias.

Regarding flying: I have no fear of flying and I love to go up in planes...just not commercial overcrowded nothing to eat charge you for every damned little thing always friggin' getting delayed planes. If I need to go somewhere that I can drive a car to, that's how I roll.

Regarding that locked door on the Museum: I'd pick the lock and walk right in.

Isn't there a part of LA called Tehrangeles? I've heard there is great food there. I'm always going to explore a different-from-mine culture through the food, first.

I'm more hesitant of flying than I was when I was young -- I flew across the country four times, unescorted, at the age of 10 and 12. I think I am more angered by the loss of comfortable seating than I am of the security. I can't stand to be scruntched into a small space for hours.

What a wonderful post, Jacqueline.

I'm often startled when I realize a reaction of mine is indication of a prejudice. We all like to think of ourselves as above such things, but they're there all the same.

I used to love to fly, but it's such a hassle now, I don't like it anymore. I'm not afraid of flying, just of the crap that goes with it.

I'm really becoming a fuddy-duddy. It's just easier to stay home.

Jackie, I am terrified of flying. But it's much much less than it used to be...much less..I can't really explain why. USed to be--if I looked up the sky and saw a plane, my stomach would lurch. (Waay before 9/11.) Getting on a plane? Awful. I mean--for awhile, couldn't do it.

ANd I do think--because we're writers and readers, we can take a situation and spiral it into the worst possible outcome. I do it all the time.

Once I saw a driver,going the wrong way on a one way street, going incredibly fast, short hair, sunglasses, coat on in the summer, bat out of hell, in a jeep, and he careened into a downtown Boston parking garage. Ah. What to do. I called the FBI. They said--whoa! YOu better call 911. Sigh.

Harley, I think you're right. I believe my children are much more colorblind than I was growing up, as both my son and daughter have really good friends of various cultural backgrounds. I know they expect equality in the workplace between the sexes (thanks to the hard work of women in the 60s, 70s and 80s). And although my daughter is in a predominantly male profession, engineering, she expects and receives equal pay for equal work. But we still have a long way to go.

Judith, I sometimes go a little out of my way to NOT walk away from a big dark-skinned guy. Does this make me prejudiced because I don't want him to think I'm prejudiced...or am I just aware that a prejudice can exist? In a perfect world, no one would have to wonder if what he or she did was biased because no one would have that tendency. Does that make sense?

I remember being so upset in college when an African-American (or whatever the phrase was then) told us that we were all prejudiced -- us? on our oh-so-liberal campus? why, I had even had a black roommate . . . yeah . . . Her point was that we couldn't escape prejudice, having grown up in a racist society, and that we could only effectively deal with it if we recognized its existence and then do our best to understand it and not act on it. . so I try. When an acquaintance in Jamaica assured me that she wasn't prejudiced, it took me a moment to understand that prejudice against whites could be just as common . . Living in Minnesota, I met people who declared they weren't prejudiced -- toward blacks, but don't get them started on Indians, and Jackie's _An Incomplete Revenge_ deals with prejudices against gypsies. It's all down to fear of those who are different, and my friend Dan's "Two Warriors" story, which ends "you cannot hate a man if you know his story."
Meanwhile, youtube came through with this Tom Lehrer classic:

My dad used to stare at his watch as we were rolling down the runway, and then announce something like, "If it takes more than 35 seconds to lift off, we're not going to make it." So of course I still have that mental image in my head every time I'm in a plane preparing for takeoff.

I'm not nervous about any particular type of passenger, but I do make sure to select an aisle seat these days. If anyone tries anything, I plan to go down fighting. I'll be the last screaming American banshee they ever encounter.

I always prided myself on not being prejudiced, and even on being more open (I told myself) than most to cross-cultural interaction.
But when I was teaching at university level in the '80s, I came face-to-face with a big, fat, intractable prejudice: female international students from a couple of nations were so oriented towards pleasing authority that they would say 'yes' when they meant 'no', and assure me that the homework was very reasonable and that they could readily finish it; then they would come to class without their homework, and when asked, would say that it was too hard or too much or that they didn't understand it. Every week. After a couple of years of that dance, I realized I had grown to dislike female students from those countries on sight, because their habits so conflicted with my 'American' notions of truth and honesty, and I had to exercise serious self-discipline to give fair grades.

I used to have a bit of panic flying. It came on when I was in my late '40s. I carried one of those small battery-operated fans and let it blow air on my face. It helped a lot. I also avoided drinking coffee before a flight. The panic gradually went away and now I have little problem with flying. The fan was a big help.

Expensive Fearful Flyers classes for 8 weeks.
Hypnosis failed in ditch landing in Louisiana grassy field in storm.
Too much alcohol and drugs.

Now it takes Double crosstics......my calm down tape from the class......a car to the airport and I can go anywhere!!!
If I can........anyone can......

Nicely I feel your source is trustworthy whoever he is so this can be helpful to observe. Also I'm amazed to check out that kotaku has yet to article this news.

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