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Events remind us that respect is key to tolerance

Several events have hit home with me recently, causing me pause and to reflect about the true meaning and impact they have, not only on my life, but the lives of all who share this small world we all call home.

Perhaps like you, I pull from life experiences to draw perspective on current events. I thought back to my childhood upbringing. I was taught to respect the differences of others and to be tolerant of those around me, for they also had "rights," In the early 1960s, my family moved from western Pennsylvania to the deep south, in Texas.

Two situations crossed my mind.

For those of you who may not have been around back then, the nation was dealing with severe racial issues and African Americans in our society had not yet achieved true equality. I recall after school I would hang around and help the African American janitor empty waste paper cans and sweep the floors. Our neighborhood wasn't racially diverse, but I had no preconceived notions about such things. I must have been in second grade or so and no one was paying me or forcing me by way of punishment to be there. We came from very different backgrounds, but I recall enjoying his company. He was a nice man and we laughed and talked about the events of our day. Of course, I was pretty much oblivious to the racial issues, except for some cautioning by my parents. I didn't know or care about the racial events swirling around. He accepted me and I him.

About the same time I recall a school yard bully. He was about a year or two older than I, and for a period, every time he would see me, he would grab me by the shoulders and throw me to the ground. And I wasn't the only one who suffered this ritual fate. I didn't know him, nor did I ever have a run-in with him before this started, but being larger and tougher in appearance than me at the time, I had no choice but to brush myself off and try my best to steer clear of him on the playground at recess. Then one day he approached me, and as I prepared to bite the dust, he stopped, apologized and asked if we could be friends. At the time it seemed like a great alternative to not being friends.

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