An abiding dilemma for Humanists who are in the “ecumenical” position of working closely with people of all faiths, is how patient and understanding we need to be in our relationships with the rest of the world. There is the especially perplexing dilemma of how tolerant to be of other’s intolerance. An old and reliable admonition that flashes in my head like neon, simply states: Do not alienate those whom you might persuade!

Those of us who are working toward a goal with other dedicated activists, are often in the position of censoring our own comments so as not to blow away our colleagues. We understand so very well that the only way that this old world is ever going to improve at all, is through cooperation and respect among those of all beliefs, cultures, and traditions, so simply out of respect for these differences, we may find ourselves limiting our own exercise of free speech. I say to myself: Try not to criticize! Be constructive! You know, the old…don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater routine. Do the Mommy-thing: encourage others to become aware and involved in the project or activity at hand. This is all well and good for the shared goal…up to a point!

But what can we say or do about those practices and beliefs that are completely beyond comprehension? How long to ignore or look away, or bite your tongue, and wish that you didn’t have to know or feel this shame or anger. How can we contain our anger at those who refuse to acknowledge and respond to whatever “emergency” we may be dealing with. I picture some of us bailing frantically in our sinking ship, while some of our fellow passengers are outright denying that the water’s even rising, and treat our concern with contempt, while still others feel there’s no need for them to worry because god will save them. Yet we can’t simply write-off those whose beliefs clearly endanger us; we share our sinking lifeboat with them! Not only will they not bail, some are even shooting more holes in the boat!

No wonder we get frantic and impatient! They’ve got to come to their senses! How can we get them to come around to the logic of our way of thinking? How can we get them to recognize the real danger that we’re in, instead of their mistaken constructs of how to deal with world problems? How can we persuade the powerful to relinquish a portion of their power? How can we intervene to stop the inhumane militarized mentality that prevails on this Earth? How to stop bullying, hatred, murder, torture, ignorance, greed? Then how to stop fear and hunger and homelessness?

Our expectations that those in power will recognize their errors and set about correcting the horrible mistakes that they’ve set in motion are continually dashed in disappointment. What a shock it can be to learn that those whose opinions you might once have valued, no longer meet your standards or your expectations. You can shrug off the stupidity of a stranger, but what an extra shock when a member of the clan or the club fails you. That really angers you; how could they be so stupid? Perhaps it’s human nature for us to expect those closest to us to think and behave “normally” as we do; they, of all people in the whole world, should know better!

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the several Humanist Manifestos say it all! What more is there to ask than respect for all human beings and life on Earth? So then we’re back to the issue of needing to respect our differences: a principle which is essential to our own integrity and our own code of ethics.

We feel the urgency for making changes, but this heavy responsibility is indeed fraught with complex dilemmas. When shall we be courageous and uncompromising? When shall we be patient and conciliatory? Speak-up! Shut-up! The ideals of freedom of speech and democratic participation are precious and need to be fostered and protected, but unless they get a lot of exercise, they’re going to get flabby. We will no longer be able to protect these freedoms.

Those of you who recognize this syndrome of self-censorship may remember that in your first declarations of independent thinking you drew negative responses, even shock or derision from more traditional relatives or co-workers. You gathered courage over a period of time to begin to articulate the logic of your point of view more persuasively, and perhaps learned that some even agreed with you in your Humanistic values. And what a joy it is to connect with like-minded truth-seekers! To find others who reject the so-called authority that is thrust upon us, and who acknowledge that the universe is indifferent to us and that it is up to us humans, ourselves, to create our own purpose and our own peace!

In the arrogance of my youth, I had pasted onto my old typewriter these marching orders: Words that might help to create Peace on Earth are trapped inside this machine! Get them out!