In a conversation I had last night that was totally unrelated to journalism, the word “tolerance” came up, and both my roommate and I looked at each other with the same look of trepidation, as if the use of the word “tolerate” instead of one like “accept” was going to reveal some egregious social error.
As we continued to have this conversation, we all mutually agreed that we really, really, really didn’t like the word.
The word “tolerance” naturally appears to have a lack of empathy. Tolerance isn’t acceptance or understanding. It is saying, ‘You are there and I am here.” And that’s the way it is and it will always be.
Tolerance is a medium of silent inaction. To tolerate something is to neither accept nor deny something, but it is simply doing nothing.
As I started thinking about it, I couldn’t help but feel a little stone weigh in my stomach.
This little stone is something that I have felt but until now have been so poorly endowed with the ability to describe.
I have for years had much doubt about the role of objective observer that the journalist personifies. It’s not that the intention of objectivity is bad — but I think our pursuit of objectivity is flawed because of unintended effects.
Yeah, maybe we should be unbiased and speak to all the sides of a story. And year, we’re doing that in the name of objectivity, but what does that really mean? What is the purpose of being objective? What is the point of maintaining this pedestal of moral superiority over our subjects?
By remaining objective and speaking to all possible angles and giving them equal time and space, we are being fair. But you could also say that we are tolerating parts of society that should not be tolerated.
We are tolerating the way the world is even when we shouldn’t.
For the first time I saw one of my huge issues with journalism encapsulated with this idea of tolerance. Yes, we write incessantly about issues with the goal of awareness, openness and objectivity. But by taking the role of reporter we are in essence tolerating. But it is upsetting because every single person I know who wants to be or is a reporter is not passive and is not uncaring.
But the role we put ourselves into is so passive and so isolated and so tolerant.
I can’t exist and write about things or record things objectively. I can’t live with myself by telling myself that I can’t do anything. We talked about the film Private Violence in a documentary class I’m in, and we discussed whether or not the film was propaganda. But that’s irrelevant to me. Of course it’s propaganda. It’s activism. It’s trying to effect change and it’s pathetic that we’re even questioning the moral validity of a pamphlet that tells people what to say and what not to say in situations where violence could ensue. Of course that pamphlet has a slant but some things need a slant because objectivity is the least effective mechanism in this situation. If it doesn’t perpetuate the culture, objectivity at least shows how tolerant we are.
Yeah, Blackfish was slanted. The Farm had issues. But Private Violence was so moving because it was so personal. This is an issue of people abusing each other and it’s happening to some degree, close or far, in everyone’s family and friend circle. If there’s something else that deserves more empathy and subjectivity, I don’t know what it is. And if we’re questioning petty issues like “is this activism and is that okay?” about something with such human weight as this, then maybe we need to assess our own frame of reference and our own position first. We are journalists and we inform but that does not give us the liberty to tolerate injustice and give that tolerance the shining title of “objectivity.”
We harden ourselves as journalists to the worst plights in the world, and that’s admirable. But at this point, it’s inefficient and even detrimental to think that simple awareness is good enough, that objectivity is the only way to inform and that journalists are not humans. Journalists tolerate the ills of the world and tolerate the doldrums of the media system and them victimize themselves and say they don’t know how to change it. But journalists are the system. Journalists have the most methods of any professional to effect change. Journalists are the only people who can change it and saying otherwise is irresponsible. Tell people to do something. Do something yourself. Stop tolerating.
I don’t want to tolerate. “I want to be excited about something.” I want to go to sleep with the headache of getting something done and not being satisfied and wanting more. I want to be overwhelmed. If I hate a corporation I want to say it. If I hate abuse I want to say it. I want to cry and I want to doubt how I’m going to get something done and make it look complex and flawed and still okay but not doubt whether or not what I’m doing is validated by some arbitrary definition of what I should or should not be doing.
But I’m not trying to act entitled or lofty about my frustrations. I’m not saying that I want to spout off opinions and be unethical. But I feel like the way I connect with people is in unconventional ways and I’ve trying to figure out how to optimize that professionally. But I have had great success in being a human with people and being real and I shouldn’t feel the need to question myself. It’s not about me. It’s about the stories I tell. But maybe the best way to tell someone else’s story is not to say that you’re a reporter. Maybe it’s best to say you’re a person and you’ll tell the story the way other people are going to respond in some little, tiny way that may not benefit you as a “reporter” or that may not benefit “journalism” but may, in some way, become something more than just sending a byline and a 50-inch story over Twitter and thinking that’s good enough.