Tolerance for Apple Pie?

I ate apple pie for breakfast. It had a basket-weave crust. The apples were cooked al dente, and were just tart enough to hold up to the brown sugar. If you’re like me, apple pie brings to mind Independence Day picnics with burgers and flags and fireworks. Or, Thanksgiving, stomach-stuffing feasts with turkey, mashed potatoes, and dressing. Simple traditions that we look forward to and enjoy and encourage anyone new to our country to embrace.

Our country. The United States. A country of immigrants. The “melting pot” — a metaphor that Americans have long embraced. How then did this happen? How did the conversation turn from diversity to division?

Apple pie.

Traditions like apple pie are comforting and pleasurable. They connect our past with our present. They offer an opportunity for common experience. Traditions also allow us to cling to the safety of the same. They can become a way to avoid change.

But, you argue, just because I make sure there’s an apple pie on the table on the 4th of July, or Thanksgiving, doesn’t mean I don’t tolerate the traditions of others. I’m allowed my traditions. Aren’t I?

Of course you are.

And don’t we as a country promote tolerance?

Of course we do. Every elementary school has a curriculum focused on tolerance in which our children learn about immigrants and diversity and the “melting pot.” My children labored long hours to create the perfect poster about the immigrants of Ellis Island. They dressed up in period costumes and relived entry into the United States. My children learned more about tolerance than when I was in school.

We are a tolerant country. We are tolerant individuals. You can, no doubt, make a long list of things that you tolerate. Quotes and slogans about tolerance litter the Internet. No doubt you can find one equal to your current beliefs. Yes, we’ve done a grand job of promoting tolerance.

But here’s the thing, and it’s a sticky thing. Apple pie.

We don’t tolerate apple pie. We love apple pie! The taste, the texture, and the golden, brown crust. Even those who don’t like apples appreciate all that apple pie represents. Americans don’t have to tolerate apple pie, because tolerance is a word reserved for that which is distasteful. I tolerate gritty garbanzo beans in a salad. I tolerate long security lines at the airport. But apple pie is important. It’s part of who we are. Apple pie just . . . is.

Unlike apple pie, do you have distaste for many of the items on the list of things you tolerate? Not sure? Pick a food that you just tolerate. For me, in addition to garbanzo beans, I tolerate wasabi, but only in small portions. When you think of that food that you only tolerate, do you scrunch your nose? Do you feel you’d waste a lovely meal if you had to endure digesting it? Or music. If you had to attend a concert of a band it seems only your significant other likes, how would you feel? Annoyed? Irritable? Would you be proud of your capacity to lose an evening and suffer ringing ears, all for a boyfriend you like and a band you can’t stand?

Why does tolerance make us feel these things?

Tolerance makes us feel uncomfortable because it’s meaning, of which you are intellectually aware, evokes dissonance. Here’s how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines tolerance:

Tolerance, def 1: capacity to endure pain or hardship.

Tolerance, def 2a: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.

Tolerance, def 2b: the act of allowing something.

Pain, hardship, conflict, sympathy, allow. I “allow” my teenage son to play violent computer games, but it feels like a “hardship.” It “conflicts” with my better sense. Nothing about it feels good. It feels like avoidance. And tolerance for diversity is what we, as a country, promote.

The problem is that “tolerance” signifies that there is some difference that we have to endure. It makes us feel uncomfortable. Both tolerance and lack of tolerance makes us feel guilty. So what do we do to feel better? We set specific times in which we practice tolerance. We bookend those times, thus limiting the pain and hardship and sympathy. We build boxes around our differences — Black History month, Women’s History month, Hispanic Heritage month, LGBT Health Awareness Week, Pan American Week. The list is long, and those days and weeks and months are vitally important to spotlighting issues and spreading awareness. Many, however, pay those days and weeks a little bit of attention and then flee to embrace that which is comfortable. We carve out room to sympathize with the plight of others, but just enough to push down the guilt. Then, we flock to spend our time with the like-minded. We cling to our American traditions and invite others to embrace them, secretly expecting that every foreign dish should eventually melt down to become apple pie.

By now you’re either agreeing with me, or arguing with me. Or frustrated that I’m picking on the majority populace. Either way, you’re thinking about it. Thinking, maybe, that there’s a better option than the word “tolerance.”

Curry.

It wasn’t until my forties (sad, but true) that this Midwest country girl was introduced to the western created “curry powder” and the dishes prepared as part of the cuisine of India. Certainly if I had enjoyed curry in my youth, I would likely enjoy it now. So, one has to ask, how do I feel about curry?

To be honest, if forced to eat it, like garbanzo beans, I would be tolerating curry’s flavor. At the same time, however, I would be embracing the opportunity to partake in an experience so wholly unlike my own. My daughter was introduced to curries in her teens, and she loves them. I love her. I embrace the experiences she enjoys. I am thankful for the different spices and herbs that flavor her experience. In the same way that I can embrace the abundance of foods and flavors, I can embrace diverse clothing styles and music, languages and gestures, ideas and faiths.

And if a curry or wasabi shows up at my Independence Day celebration, it doesn’t matter that the flavors are different than my tradition. My apple pie doesn’t have to tolerate the curry. The curry doesn’t have to be banned from my party. Nor does it have to take a lesser position to the grilled burgers. The curry and the burgers can be embraced, equally, and not just on Independence Day. Every day.

Embrace. I believe the answer is to avoid using the word “tolerance” and start using the term “embrace diversity.” Here’s how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word embrace.

Embrace, def 1a: to clasp in the arms, hug 1b: cherish, love.

Embrace, def 2: encircle enclose.

Embrace, def 3a: to take up especially readily or gladly b: to avail oneself of: welcome.

Embrace, def 4a: to take in or include as a part, item, or element of a more inclusive whole b: to be equal or equivalent.

Embrace does not involve pain and hardship. It does not merely allow. Embrace cherishes and loves, gladly, inclusively, and equally.

When we embrace curry and wasabi and pad Thai and Fattoush and chorizo and marinara, they aren’t expected to melt into a sludge that eventually resembles apple pie. They stand equal and beloved. Cherished.

So do we preach tolerance or do we embrace? Do we tolerate diversity or embrace diversity? Given the choice between enduring pain or cherishing, I choose to cherish. Then apple pie . . . is. Curry . . . is. Fattoush . . . is. We all . . . are. Dissonance dissolves. We feel abundant.

Embrace diversity.