Tolerance is easier to preach than practice

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Time heals all wounds ó except for the ones it exacerbates.

That is the lesson of the dozen days since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.

You donít need to study the mainstream media either to figure out just how raw the emotions are on both the right and left as we enter a new era in American politics. Instead, you could have just read the Daily Inter Lake along with its website and Facebook pages in order to gauge the anger and resentment that is boiling up as neighbors judge neighbors and find them unworthy of mercy, tolerance or understanding.

The reactions to a couple of news stories last week provided ample evidence of just how divided we are as a nation, and how unforgiving we have become.

Example No. 1 was the front-page story on Wednesday about the resignation of Gil Jordan as executive director of the Northwest Montana Historical Society. Gil had served admirably in that capacity for 12 years, and helped to convert the Museum at Central School from merely a historic building into a building full of history.

Gil and his wife, Kimberly Pinter, who had been office manager for the historical society, announced last week that, following the election of Donald Trump, they had decided to resign and ďfocus on other priorities.Ē In a letter they wrote to ďfriends and family,Ē Gil said that, ďI am unwilling to carry on with business as usual as if nothing catastrophic has occurred.Ē

Say what you will about Jordanís politics, it is certainly a rare and thus newsworthy occurrence when someone in the public eye takes such a serious course of action over a national election. And unlike those national celebrities who said they were going to move to Canada if Trump won, Jordan actually acted on his principles. Kudos to him for having a core belief system.

Not surprisingly, we heard from readers who were not pleased by Jordanís decision, but oddly enough they blamed the Inter Lake for writing about it on the front page as if we were somehow endorsing his views.

Folks, thatís not how a newspapers works ó or at least not how it should work. We put it on the front page out of respect for Gilís service to the community (in addition to his time at the museum, he also had been a Democratic candidate for county commissioner several years ago) and because it met the criteria for news ó it was current, unusual, and was something the public had a right to know.

No one has to agree with Jordanís reasoning or the causes he intends to support, nor his assessment of the danger of a Trump administration, but responses to Jordan should be made respectfully, thoughtfully and on the opinion page. Everyone in this country has a right to their own beliefs, and they should not be belittled for expressing them.

Our front-page story did what I hope all of our local stories do ó let our neighbors speak for themselves, so that we can all better understand ourselves as a community. You canít respond or react to that which you donít even know exists, and you shouldnít expect the Inter Lake to protect you from points of view different than your own.

Example No. 2 is to my mind even more instructive of just how eager we are as a nation to deride and divide ó finding fault in those we disagree with and actively working to label them, shame them and shush them.

Young Zachary Rhoads, a 16-year-old student at Flathead High School, had transferred to the school from Laurel less than a year ago, but he made a big impression on his teachers, fellow students and community in just a short while. He had joined the football team and had dreams of one day becoming a professional football player.

Unfortunately, those dreams ended nine days ago, when Rhoads, his mother, and his future stepfather were all killed in a horrendous car accident west of Kalispell. It was heart-breaking to read about, and when a student reached out to us to let us know that a ďtruck rallyĒ was being organized as a tribute to Zachary last Wednesday, we were impressed that his friends would find a unique way of saying goodbye to him.

We dispatched a reporter and photographer to document the event, which happened after school Wednesday afternoon. They returned with a compelling story and photographs and let their editors know that one of the components of the tribute was the presence of Confederate flags that were hauled on some of the trucks participating in the rally.

As editors, we have to make decisions every day about what is appropriate content for the newspaper. We knew that some readers would object to the presence of a Confederate flag in a news photo, because of the flagís obvious association with the institution of slavery as practiced in the Old South, but no one at the rally spoke of the flag as a symbol of racism or showed any intent to demean anyone by including it. Instead, the high school students told us that the flag to them symbolized the rural redneck and cowboy lifestyle they had grown up with.

We decided to run a photo that included the flag, and as always welcome comments and letters from readers about what is included in our news coverage and what happens in our community, but that doesnít mean we can slant or shade news coverage based on how people will react to it.

There are many symbols which give offense to someone, but when we take a news photo we arenít responsible for the content. We publish disturbing images on a regular basis because, face it, the world is a messy place without any safe spaces. This truck rally isnít something we made up; it is a real part of our life in Kalispell, Montana, and unless you plan to outlaw free speech, you probably shouldnít be too surprised at a symbol of youthful rebellion showing up, especially with emotions so high at the unexpected death of a friend.

As adults, we should try to step back and be part of the solution, not part of the problem. When I was growing up, we had a saying that still seems pretty relevant ó live and let live. We canít control anyone elseís thoughts or behavior, and we sure as heck donít want anyone controlling ours.

Whether itís Gil Jordan expressing his political beliefs, or those teen-agers letting off steam with a politically incorrect parade, we ought to be able to find room for forgiveness of that which we donít agree. We live in a diverse culture that represents many points of view. Respecting diversity canít begin by banning opinions and symbols that one group finds offensive.

Thatís why ó whether itís a Confederate flag, a Che Guevara T-shirt, or an Islamic State flag ó if the symbol is a legitimate part of a news story, we will include it ó even though someone may find it inappropriate. Thatís our job.


Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana.†

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