OPINION | Unite not divide by tweeting tolerance

US President Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally at the BOK Center on June 20, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
US President Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally at the BOK Center on June 20, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP

We are very far from perfect today. But our ability to communicate and to tolerate is well worth preserving, writes Howard Feldman.

I rolled my South African eyes when I saw the tweet. It read as follows: "I just fired my therapist. I found out she's 100% a Trump supporter. I just can't with these people."

Really? I was shocked. Was that level of drama absolutely necessary, and who would do such a thing? Surely a political outlook is just that, and there was no need to purge people from one's life over who they support?

Then I noticed that the tweet had been liked more than 167 000 times and received more than 8 000 comments.

I started to read them and noticed that they were largely supportive of this decision. Others, it turned out, had fired all sorts of people from their lives, because of the "crime" of supporting the president of the United States.

Clearly, the message had touched a nerve and reflected a view that many shared. More than this it indicated a level of disgust and revulsion that has most likely never been witnessed before.

So visceral in fact that people are firing therapists, nail technicians and only tolerate family because they know that at worst (for them), they just need to survive another four-and-a-half years.

On Wednesday morning on my breakfast show, I asked listeners what they would feel about me interviewing a member of the Satanic Church that has now opened in South Africa.

The founders Riaan Swiegelaar and Adri Norton apparently held a Facebook session in order to "clear up misconceptions" that people might have around their practices, and I wondered if this was a conversation that people would be interested in hearing more of.

In truth, I wasn't certain where I stood on it but threw it out to listeners. The response was significantly more aggressive than I had imagined, with a number threatening to change stations, boycott my show and a few used a number of unmentionables, un-Godlike phrases that indicated exactly how they were feeling.

South Africans, in this case at least, seemed to be no more tolerant than our American counterparts.

Much like the therapist in the case of the Twitter thread, I was about to be cancelled for expressing a view, or a thought that people determined was unacceptable.

As it would happen, they needn't haven’t bothered, as around halfway through the show I had received a text from my wife saying: "Please tell them not to worry. You won’t be interviewing a Satanist."

So, that was that for freedom of my expression.

The firing of a therapist in the US and the refusal to talk about Satanic worship is obviously not the same thing. But it does indicate a level of intolerance that we need to consider. In a world that is fighting to eliminate racism, misogyny and religious intolerance, there seems to be the danger that in noble zealousness and conviction, that we are fast becoming the very people we claim to detest.

This is not brand-spanking new for the US.

The country has chosen to divide itself along political lines for years. The media might have assisted in encouraging this, but they are merely a mirror to a fractured society.

I recall so clearly the case of Prof Christine Ford who claimed to have been assaulted by Judge Brett Kavanaugh. It was hard to find a Republican who stood with Ford as it was to find a Democrat who sided with Kavanaugh.

Political alliance determined who you believed and who you did not. The case foretold of what was still to come.

South Africans have an abhorrent past. As a country we were forcibly divided and taught to distrust. With the dawn of democracy and the opportunity to speak to each other, and to listen, we have seen that there is more that unites us than divides us. We are very far from perfect today.

But our ability to communicate and to tolerate is well worth preserving. I checked with my wife, who agrees.

 - Howard Feldman is a keynote speaker and analyst. He is the author of three books and is the morning talk show host on ChaiFM.

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