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Life in Community

Forget Tolerance; Try Caring

November 17, 2016 by

“I don’t mean to offend you, but…”

OK. She’s going to ask me if I’m Amish. She’ll end the conversation as soon as I try to explain the difference between my church and the Amish. Fine.

At least she asked.

When starting college last year, I expected people to comment on or ask me about my head covering, skirt, or dog tag-shaped cross necklace. I anticipated chances to share about my faith and the amazing church community I grew up in. I was enthusiastic to meet new people with pride and confidence and was thankful that in my appearance I could make a witness to everyone I met.

Reality was a little different. I can’t say people don’t notice my dress, although the many Muslims here in Morgantown, WV, do keep me from sticking out as I did in say, Canterbury, UK, where I spent part of my childhood. I am very aware of the quick double-takes as people pass me, the furtive up-down glance at my clothes that ends back inches below the danger area of my eyes. They notice, and I assume they sometimes wonder what the reason for it is, but it’s a rare occasion when someone actually asks me why I wear what I do.

Believe it or not, I love those moments.

a young woman from the Bruderhof speaking with a friend

West Virginia University prides itself on its diversity, welcoming atmosphere, and its tolerance. But sometimes the tolerance does just what it is trying to avoid doing. It offends me. When people do ask me what religion I follow, they almost always begin with a hesitant, “I don’t mean to offend you, but. . .” It almost makes me laugh when they say this (it definitely makes me smile). Do they honestly think that I am embarrassed about my faith? Wearing this? If I didn’t want people to know that I am a Christian, would I be wearing a cross necklace?

So on the one hand, I think many of my peers consciously avoid bringing up the topic of my faith or chosen attire because they don’t want to offend me. On the other hand, when people have broached the subject of faith with me, it has always led to a meaningful relationship, a deep-going discussion, and often, a new friendship. These conversations are such a change from the standard class-time exchanges which rarely venture beyond the banal topics of assignments, professors, and the weather. After an unexpected meeting with someone in the library or at the bus stop, I have learned something about someone, and they have given me an opportunity to share something I am excited about.

While my experience with tolerance has not been very positive, intolerance is not any better. We need to be open to other people’s viewpoints and respect different religions and cultures because this is what will bring people together. Simply tolerating someone who thinks differently is the easy way out. If you “live and let live” you never have to leave your comfort zone. Relationships with people who think differently take a little more effort. I know that my peers and I could broaden our minds if we took only one minute every day to look beyond our friend groups and reach out to someone we do not know. If someone takes offense to a friendly greeting, the problem is theirs, not yours. The Bible says, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” (1 Pet. 3:13).

Forget tolerance. Try caring a little bit about those around you. Reach out with a greeting or a smile and I promise, you will not regret it. Sure, you might feel stupid sometimes when you are met with a gruff reply or are ignored, but at least you showed someone that you care about them.


Anetta Shirky lives at the Morgantown Bruderhof community house and attends West Virginia University, where she is studying elementary education.

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Anetta Shirky

Anetta Shirky

Anetta Shirky lives in Morgantown and attends West Virginia University, where she is studying elementary education.

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  • Thank you, Anetta; you make a very good point. Tolerance and respect for other people is fine, but there is also the issue right and wrong. If we are tolerant of things that are against God's order, we are working for the other side. Keep thinking, keep writing-- all the best, David

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  • Thank you Annetta for your testimony. I pray that God will open many more doors for you which will enable you to share your faith. You will be pleased to know that churches in Canterbury are working together to find ways in which love, care and compassion can be shown to the many lonely, hurting people who live in that great city. thank you for what you and those of you in the Bruderhof community did whilst you worked at Nonnington and in that community. You are missed! God bless you in your studies! Liz Rook (Retired Headteacher and great enthusiast for Community Playthings and their beautiful resources!)

    Liz Rook