Learning True Tolerance As a child, Joel Engardio went door to door with his mother to share the tenets of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The experience led to his belief that tolerance is the foundation of freedom and liberty.
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Learning True Tolerance

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Learning True Tolerance

Learning True Tolerance

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From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Unidentified Man #1: I believe in mystery.

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe in feeling.

Unidentified Man #2 I believe in being who I am.

Unidentified Man #3 I believe in the power of failure.

Unidentified Man #4 And I believe normal life is extraordinary.

Unidentified Man #5: This, I believe.

HANSEN: Our This, I Believe essay this week was sent in by Joel P. Engardio of San Francisco. Engardio is a writer and filmmaker who currently works as a program strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Here is the series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON: Many of our essayists write of beliefs formed in childhood. Joel Engardio ended up breaking a wave from the beliefs he was raised with, but that process led him to a value that underlies his freedom to believe whatever he chooses.

Here's Joel Engardio with his essay for This, I Believe.

Mr. JOEL ENGARDIO (Write; Filmmaker; Program Strategist, American Civil Liberties Union): I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. If I ever knocked on your door when you were mowing the lawn or taking a nap, please excuse me. I understand. A kid with a Watchtower magazine on your front porch isn't a Girl Scout with cookies. But, hey, you didn't have to sic your dog on me.

I believe how we treat the people we dislike the most and understand the least — Jehovah's Witnesses, for example — says a lot about the freedoms we value in America: religion, speech, personal liberty. And all of these freedoms rely on one thing - tolerance.

I learned this as a kid when I went door-knocking with my mom. We were preaching that Jehovah's kingdom was coming soon to solve the world's problems. I prayed no one from school was behind those doors. Dogs I could run from. It was hard enough being singled out as the kid who didn't celebrate Christmas or say the Pledge of Allegiance. There was little tolerance for my explanation that we only worshipped God, and that God was not American. There was no tolerance when I announced to my third-grade class that Santa Claus was pagan and a lie.

Still, I didn't have a bad childhood. Our Saturday morning ministry meant sacrificing my Saturday morning cartoons, but our 10 o'clock coffee break was a blessing. That's when we'd gather at Dunkin' Donuts, trying not to get powdered sugar at our suits and dresses while we told stories and laughed. We always knew when you were home but hiding.

As a teenager, I decided fitting in at school and in life was worth sacrificing some principles. So I never became a Jehovah's Witness. That was the first time I broke my mom's heart. The second time was when I told her I'm gay. Obviously, I don't agree with my mom's belief that same-sex relationships are wrong. But I tolerate her religion because she has a right to her beliefs. And I like it that my mom doesn't politicize her beliefs. She has never voted for a law that discriminates against gay people, or anyone who isn't a Jehovah's Witness. Her Bible tells her to love, above all.

My belief in tolerance led to a documentary film I made about Jehovah's Witnesses, and my mom actually likes it. The message is about being open to letting people have views we don't like, so in that sense, it could also be about Muslims, gay people or NASCAR race fans. The point is the people we don't understand become less scary when we get to know them as real people. We don't have to be each other's cup of tea, but tolerance lets a variety of kettles peacefully share the stove. I believe our capacity to tolerate both religious and personal difference is what will ultimately give us true liberty — even if it means putting up with an occasional knock on the door.

ALLISON: Joel P. Engardio with his essay for This, I Believe. Engardio told us that, not surprisingly, his work with the ACLU is directly related to his belief in tolerance. He also noted that his mother knew something about tests of tolerance, being the only member of a large Italian Catholic family to become a Jehovah's Witness.

We hope you'll consider our open invitation to write for this series as Engardio did. Find out more at npr.org/thisibelieve where you can also find a link to our podcast.

For This, I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

HANSEN: Jay Allison is co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick of the book, "This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women."

Next week on npr.org, an essay from listener Bob Barrett(ph) of Charlotte, North Carolina, on his belief in integrity. A belief that, for him, has been painfully tested.

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