Frank, the Dominican-turned-New Yorker doorman of our high-rise apartment building, stepped from the lobby onto the sidewalk, put two fingers to his teeth, and let loose a whistle that pierced the morning air like an arrow shot. Out of nowhere appeared three or four of his compatriots, street toughs all.
My wife stood by, bewildered. Moments earlier she'd unloaded her troubles on Frank. (I was at work and unreachable.) She had a four-year-old and a two-year-old in tow, and was five months pregnant with our third child. Her plans for a crosstown journey had screeched to a halt when the car wouldn't start. The prospect of gathering up the children for that trip via bus, subway, and on foot was just too much. As the men approached, Frank chatted with them in Spanish. They turned to our car, flipped up the hood, and had the engine purring smoothly in minutes. My wife urged a generous tip on them, but they wouldn't accept a dime.
That evening as she unreeled the day's events, we both felt the same two things: grateful for the unexpected help, and rebuked for the intolerance we'd harbored since moving to that ethnically diverse neighborhood.
Initially, we'd been defensive. Weren't these the same street toughs whose ghetto blasters sent music ricocheting through our apartment complex at 1:30 a.m.? Weren't they the ones who partied so hard that they occasionally didn't make it home by morning, leaving neighbors to step around or over them on the sidewalk as they slept off the night's revelries?
But that wasn't the essence of them. Foolishly, we'd let those occurrences blind us to deeper facts. They expressed genuine and practical care, tender concern for mothers and children. Foolishly, we'd focused on gravel but overlooked nuggets of gold.
That evening our prejudice and intolerance ebbed away for good. As long as we lived there, we delighted in embraced and felt embraced by the neighborhood, late-night music and all.
If one's private intolerance seems far different from the sometimes brutal intolerance that makes the headlines, the seeds for healing are the same and drop from the same tree. We share a common heritage. The prophet Malachi got it right when he asked, "Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?" (2:10). The parenthood of God finds expression in the brotherhood-sisterhood of men and women. That was the real, foundational truth of the situation.
Tolerance isn't about putting up with vile behavior. Tolerance isn't about just learning to hold your tongue or your nose. At its best, tolerance is about glimpsing the gold in human character recognizing and prizing the spiritual worth of each individual as a unique expression of the Mind and Love that are God. It's about glimpsing this, but not about recasting the gold of their character in the image and likeness of us.
Each defeat of intolerance in our own thought and life is, in a sense, a win for everyone. A small victory for the rights of humanity everywhere. Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy gave this starting point for prayer: "With one Father, even God, the whole family of man would be brethren; and with one Mind and that God, or good, the brotherhood of man would consist of Love and Truth, and have unity of Principle and spiritual power which constitute divine Science" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pgs. 469470).
As it grows in consciousness, the understanding of the brother-sisterhood of us all rooted in the spiritual fact of God's parenting of every one of us expands one's appreciation. Like the branches of a banyan tree that extend ever wider, there's no limit to the reach of spiritually based appreciation. And that's a good thing. Because there's no end to the variety of wonderful ways that humanity expresses the one Mind and Principle, the divine Parent we all share. Consider words from a prayer billions share: "Our Father ... Give us ... forgive us ... lead us ... deliver us ...."
Notice it's Our and us. Never me or mine.