Rufus, Yoga and Tolerance

March 20, 2016

This morning during my practice I put on a CD by Rufus Wainwright that I had not listened to in a long time. As “Going To A Town,” played, the physical sensations felt the first time I heard it came rushing back. There was the initial “Oh no, here we go bashing America again,” followed by disdain for the artist who was privileged enough to be able to be a successful musician, live off of royalties and do what he wanted in his life. We all should be so lucky. I remembered thinking that wasn’t it always the spoiled ones who had 99% of everything they wanted but because they couldn’t have that remaining 1%, they were going to pitch a hissy fit.

But this time, new ones replaced those old feelings. I found myself wondering what song I would write if I was told I was wrong for being who I was – would I want to live among people who told me that? What would I write if I were someone who wanted peace but lived in a society that created war at the drop of a dime? Could I live that way?

So today I heard the song in a different way. It spoke to me of wanting tolerance but finding myself forced to live in an intolerant community.

I wondered if we’d changed since Rufus released his song in 2007. After all, more of us are doing yoga, certainly a practice of tolerance, yes? According to a 2012 Yoga Journal report, 8.7% (20 million) of Americans were doing yoga with another 44.4% considering themselves “aspirational” yogis – people who were interested in trying yoga. Another report by the Statistic Brain Research Institute reported that the average annual increase of the number of people who practice yoga over the last five years is 87%. The amount of money spent in the US on yoga products is estimated at $10,300,000,000 (aggregate five years). That’s a lot of yoga and yoga-related expenditures. So you’d think society would benefit from all the peaceful, loving, well-balanced (mentally) people that yoga practice brings.

Now, let’s take a look at what has happened in our society just within the last year:

1. The burning of Ferguson and Baltimore along with numerous other towns. If you agree with the violence, you are in the right. If you disagree with the violence, you are in the wrong – and called a redneck.

2. Small businesses targeted with hate and violence because they refuse to make pizzas, bake cakes or take pictures for gay weddings. It appeared to me that these businesses were purposely targeted just to channel hatred.

3. Finally, let’s top it all off with the political situation going on right now. One is being targeted with an extraordinary amount of bile and accused of inciting violence. His supporters are denied their freedom of speech and are met with violence from the very people who accuse this candidate of – violence.

An article in The Economist entitled “Getting Nicer,” (May, 2015) all sorts of statistics were cited as proof that America was indeed showing signs of increased tolerance toward communists, gays and atheists. The strongest predictor of tolerance, the article suggests, is the level of education one has received. “College graduates accept outsiders and their views 83% of the time, whereas for those with a high-school degree, the acceptance rate is 64%.”

“Acceptance” is apparently defined as tolerance toward communists, gays and atheists – as opposed to people who are not communists, not gay and/or believe in God.

I wonder if anyone who was involved in the violence, looting and vandalism in the events (see #1, #2, #3 above) would say that they practice yoga. If yes, I would suggest that they try another class. Real yoga teaches tolerance in its truest form – that we may all differ in our ethnicity, socioeconomic class, education, religion, sexuality and political views but deep down we are all the same. We all want to love and to be loved, just as we are. We all have the same needs, fears and dreams. Our differences should not make us fear each other.

With all due respect to The Economist, I am not sure that American universities are the best places to find “tolerance” – unless of course, tolerance is loosely defined as applying to one group of people but not another. In which case, we are not talking about real tolerance, either.

I would say that possibly, we may not be any more tolerant in 2016 that we were in the past. We’ve just exchanged which groups of people are okay to hate.

Rufus, I feel your pain.