[Ed: This was originally written in a discussion about the vampire
community, but the concepts apply equally well elsewhere]
So, now we’ve seen some examples of “I’m Real, You’re Not” and some
examples of “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” I’ve been thinking about how
to keep this tangle from shattering us the way it does so many
communities, and I came up with three different tools we might be able to
Tolerance – So far, we’ve been pretty good at Tolerance. Tolerance is a
social contract – people come together and say, “Look, I don’t understand
some of you, but I’ll take your word for it that you belong.” It’s an
external framework that we voluntarily plug into in the hope of finding
SOME common ground to build on. Being external, it doesn’t require any
internal cognitive dissonance – Sue can think Ellen isn’t a real vampire,
but just kind of deal with the fact that Ellen thinks she is because
Ellen, like anyone else, probably has some interesting things to say.
Respect – Respect is the most stable and reliable tool for community-
building, but it’s totally different from Tolerance because it’s
completely internal. You respect some people, you don’t respect others.
You can TREAT people you don’t respect as though you respect them, if
you’ve got the personal strength for that sort of thing, but most people
don’t, and write it off as “hypocrisy” because they’ve got so much to
prove that they can’t just let it go. The important thing is that you
can’t just decide to respect someone, any more than you can decide to
love them or hate them, because it’s a feeling. Until someone has
*earned* your respect, you can’t genuinely respect them. Respect is
rare, and rightly so.
So how do you bridge the gap between the inherent tensions of diverse
people practicing Tolerance, and the rarity of Respect?
Courtesy! I know, it seems too simple and old-fashioned to be at all
useful – but it really does have meaning, and could save us as a community
if enough individuals decide to use it. It’s not completely external,
like Tolerance – no matter what community you’re a part of or not, it’s
totally up to you whether to treat your fellows with courtesy. Neither is
it totally internal, like Respect – it’s kind of a programming language
that translates between the machine language of what you really feel and
the outside world with its possibilities for functionality.
A nice perk of Courtesy is that it actually leads to Respect. A lot of
times, Respect is hindered by personal insecurity and lack of information.
But if you get a critical mass of diverse people practicing Courtesy, the
flow of information is unimpeded, and people are more likely to shrug off
the capes & masks and allow as how maybe someone totally different from
them might be for real too.