Tag Archives: tolerance

“Sonnet 11: As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou growest” by William Shakespeare – A Promotion of Ethnic Cleansing?

Shakespeare

As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou growest
In one of thine, from that which thou departest;
And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestowest
Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest.
Herein lives wisdom, beauty and increase:
Without this, folly, age and cold decay:
If all were minded so, the times should cease
And threescore year would make the world away.
Let those whom Nature hath not made for store,
Harsh featureless and rude, barrenly perish:
Look, whom she best endow’d she gave thee more;
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:
She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby
Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

I had mixed feelings about this poem when I read it this morning over my first cup of coffee. But before I delve into why this poem troubled me, I figured I’d talk about the basic theme and metaphors.

This is another of the “fair youth” sonnets, where Shakespeare is entreating an unnamed young man to procreate. The opening lines describe how a child will grow at the same rate as a parent ages. The child’s physical and mental development progresses at the same pace as the parent’s abilities decreases. I suspect this was very important at a time that lacked elder care and care for the elderly was generally the responsibility of the children.

Lines 5 and 6 address heredity:

Herein lives wisdom, beauty and increase:
Without this, folly, age and cold decay:

I like this image. For me, the idea of wisdom, beauty, and increase describes the parents’ ability to pass on to their children what they have learned in life, an appreciation for art and beauty in life, and an increase in wealth, both material and spiritual. Without a family to share these things with, all we have will atrophy and decay along with us in our later years.

So now we get to the point that I find troubling.

Let those whom Nature hath not made for store,
Harsh featureless and rude, barrenly perish:
Look, whom she best endow’d she gave thee more;
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:

So I understand what Shakespeare is getting at here. He is saying that if the beautiful and artistically creative and intelligent people of the world failed to procreate, then the world would become dominated by those who would not be in as much of a position to advance culture and society. But looking at this from a 21st-century perspective, we can see how this type of ideology has led to abuse and human rights violations throughout history. Racist and ethnocentric propaganda consistently depicts “others” as breeding like vermin and threatening to overrun the purer population, while at the same time encouraging those of the desired race to procreate and ensure their continued existence and dominance. So when I read a line claiming that those who are “harsh featureless and rude” should “barrenly perish,” I cannot help but feeling horrified at the idea that the value of one class of people is elevated and preferred above another.

While I concede that Shakespeare probably did not have ethnic cleansing in mind when he penned this sonnet, it’s hard to read this today and not have those images conjured. Let’s just hope that the “wisdom, beauty and increase” of tolerance and acceptance will occur in our lives, and that hatred and intolerance will “barrenly perish.”

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“The Divine Image” by William Blake

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

DivineImageThe message is a pretty clear in this poem—we are all created in the image of god. How we perceive the Divine is not important. Whether you choose to worship the Divine as a pagan, a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, whatever, it makes no difference. We are all of the Divine and the Divine spirit exists within all of us.

This leads us to the issue of tolerance. Too many of us are still intolerant of others and harbor feelings of fear and hatred directed at people who are different. The Divine can manifest in an infinite number of forms, each one is as holy as the other. The differences in people are nothing more than the myriad emanations of the Divine. When someone is intolerant towards a group of individuals, whether it is because of religious differences, race, nationality, sexual orientation, political beliefs, etc., then that person is essentially rejecting one of god’s manifestations.

Focusing on the similarities as opposed to the differences in people can be difficult, but it becomes easier with practice. Acceptance is the key. Once we learn to be accepting of others, we become more tolerant and we begin to notice the manifestation of the Divine within those around us.

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“The Writings on the Wall: Peace at the Berlin Wall” by Terry Tillman

WritingsOnTheWallYesterday morning I went for a run and passed a wall freshly covered with graffiti. I was initially annoyed, but then the graffiti stirred a memory of a book I had purchased years ago that I had not thought about for a while. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, I purchased The Writings on the Wall, which came with an actual piece of the wall as part of the boxed book set. I confess buying the book for the chunk of cement with a little paint on it, wanting that piece of history, but I ended up being really moved by the book itself. I decided to peruse it again.

The book is a collection of photographs depicting graffiti art painted on the wall. It also includes photographs of the wall being demolished. These stunning pictures are interspersed with quotes from writers, activists, thinkers, and politicians, all promoting concepts of peace and unity. It’s impossible to look through this book without feeling inspired and hopeful.

Unfortunately, history has a nasty way of repeating itself. I can’t help thinking about the walls we are constructing today, whether it is to keep out immigrants, or to give us a false sense of security in our walled and gated communities, or whether they are the social barriers erected to keep us separated from those who are different. The types of walls may vary, but the resulting division is always the same.

The idealist in me hopes that someday we will abolish the walls we’ve created. It could happen, if we are able to let go of the “us and them” mentality that seems so prevalent nowadays. On that note, let me quote the opening paragraphs from Tillman’s book. Hopefully the words will help inspire us to “love our diversity.”

Before it began to be dismantled, the Berlin Wall was approximately one hundred and five miles long encircling the city. About forty five miles of the Wall was built of concrete. During several visits I walked or rode a bicycle along thirty of those miles and I was never out of site of graffiti. The graffiti were only on the West Berlin side of the Wall. In many places the graffiti is many layers deep. And most of it is only visible for a short time (often just a few days) because it is painted over by the next artist. The writing on the Wall seems to appear mysteriously. During the more than two hundred hours I spent near the Wall over fifteen days, I did not once see anyone painting on the Wall.

The message and experience of the writing on the Berlin Wall is strangely uplifting. It is a touching chronicle of human creativity, determination, hope, and unity. It seemed inevitable that the Wall would eventually come down. The graffiti prophesied that—literally the writing was on the wall. And the opening of the Wall is more than just the removal of a physical barrier and division. It is a joining, coming together of human consciousness. A new unity that is only possible when we love our diversity.

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