Embracing The Tolerance

This week Sheldon talks about tolerance, both in its broader sense and how it impacts Magic and Commander in particular.

What I’d like to talk to you about this week is tolerance, both in its broader sense and how it impacts Magic and Commander in particular. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the US. While we’re celebrating our good fortunes and the things for which we’re thankful, I’d like us to think about how we might bring some of that good fortune to other people. Personally, one of the things I’m thankful for is that the world and our country as a microcosm of it is such as diverse place.

As a quick thankfulness aside, I have to thank Gretchyn, my wife, for providing me the opportunity and support that I’ve needed to dive headlong into school this year. Sure, the GI Bill is paying for it, but it’s her unending encouragement that’s kept me going when it got tough.

It’s actually been my time at University of South Florida that’s gotten me thinking on these lines. I have a radically different perspective that most of my fellow undergrads, having seen the world an actual lifetime longer than they have. While most of them are immersed in a great period of personal growth as they struggle to find out who they are and maybe even where their place in the world is, I can watch them change. While our growth as people continues all our lives, that major genesis of identity is happening to these young adults right now.

One day, as I people-watched between classes, a kind of my own intolerance struck me. It wasn’t about race or gender or orientation or religion. I’ve been a lifelong supporter and defender of minority rights. What occurred to me was that I was being emotionally (and fortunately, mostly internally) dismissive of people because of their age.

The majority of the folks on a college campus are in the 18-25 range. They’re flowers just beginning to open and stretch toward the sun. Their search for identity manifests itself in the clothing they wear, the music they listen to, and the groups they put themselves in. Clothing is the most easily identified, and it’s what led me to my mini-epiphany.

I was talking with some friends about freedom. I’m pretty sure it was a free-will discussion that had cascaded down from talking about some scientific principle, most likely astronomy related since I’m taking Astronomy of the Solar System this semester. I’m not sure how we got around to clothing, but in that conversation I made the following statement:

"I want everyone to be free to wear what they want. And I want to be free to tell them that they look ridiculous."

Everyone had a hearty laugh, which is good because I had meant it to be funny. The conversation moved on and eventually ended. Later, I started thinking about it. I was expressing a kind of intolerance. Sure, some of the things that people choose to wear may seem weird to me, but so what? So long as they’re expressions of self and not expressions of hate, why should I care? I realized that I was coming at it from the wrong angle. It served no positive purpose for me to be dismissive of fashion and culture regardless of how much of that derision was internalized (I certainly don’t walk around telling people that I dislike their clothing).

I’ve decided to choose to celebrate fashion diversity (and when I say fashion, I just mean the stuff that folks wear, not the high fashion of the runways of Paris and Milan) like I already celebrate other diversities: recognition that it’s the things that make us different that make us better as a whole. I’m training myself to this search for identity as a moving coming-of-age story, not an indictment of popular culture.

Tolerance doesn’t mean having to like everything. There are things that are genuinely worth disliking, like hatred. We want to stamp those things out. There are other things that boil down to matters of taste, which are okay to not like. Brussels sprouts, NASCAR, gangsta rap, and combo decks don’t resonate with me. There’s no world where I would suggest doing away with them or that you’re a lesser person for being a fan of any one of them. Instead of focusing on what I don’t like about things, I want to focus on other people’s love for them. That Ramones song is just too short for me to get into, but when my friend Brian David-Marshall is grooving on it, I want to groove on his enjoyment, not wreck it with my disdain.

I love that I live in a country where we’re mostly tolerant of LGBT folks. The difference between when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s and today is nothing short of amazing. We still have a long way to go, but I think we’re transitioning to an age where being LGBT is "different-normal" as opposed to "different-weird."  Millenials and the iY generation are growing up with tolerance ingrained in them.

We still need to continue that trend through education and positive reinforcement. It’s okay to be intolerant of intolerance, but the way to do it is through opening someone to thoughts, not shutting them down. Sure, if someone is being out-and-out intentionally offensive, cutting off the offender is the right thing to do, but if it’s more a case of ignorance, then the more productive way around is education.

In general, I find the Magic community pretty sophisticated in this regard, but although I think its usage is on the downswing, we still hear the term "gay" used as a pejorative. It’s simply time to stop it. I know there are many younger folks who use it and aren’t aware of its implications. When you hear it, educate. Remind the person that what they’re saying can be hurtful so some folks and that it demonstrates their own lack of enlightenment.

Marriage equality is a hot topic right now, and I believe in it so much that I’ve done a school project on it. I won’t go into too many details, but if you’d like to pop over to Marriage Equality Florida, that’d be great. I’ll leave you with the tagline: marriage equality is good for everyone.

Where the Magic community gets a solid B on sexual orientation, I think it gets an A in racial tolerance. I can’t pick out a time in all my years involved in the game when I’ve heard an honest-to-goodness racial slur. People confusing Cedric with Rashad may point to the fact that there’s still a deep underlying problem in America, but my experience is that the broader Magic community considers race a non-issue.

Women are not a novelty. They are people. While violence is rarely a good answer to things, I may look the other way when a woman responds to "does your boyfriend play too?" with a nut shot. The rankest part of the offense of that question is the implication that a woman exists only in reference to a man. Gender relations are where I think we’re still falling down most in the Magic community. We’re a bit better than we were a decade ago, but we have to stop treating female Magic players like they’re part of some sideshow. When you see a woman as a Magic event, don’t think about treating her like a woman. Think about treating her like a human being.

The major part of this discussion is not about the broader social issues of bigotry and discrimination but about tolerance within the scope of playing our game. In this, I think we still have a way to go. The learning curve of Magic is pretty steep. It’s intentionally a difficult and complex game to play. Mastering it takes a great deal of time, talent, practice, and patience. Ridiculing people who haven’t reached that a state of mastery is infantile and of little positive benefit to anyone.

Check your Facebook page or Twitter feed. Look for things like "opponent couldn’t have been worse" or "guy was a complete durdle."  I’m not saying that you have to blow smoke up their backside and say how good they were, but being insulting accomplishes nothing save for making you look like a jerk. Think about how you felt when you first started playing. You would have loved to get constructive criticism from people as opposed to being dismissed as a n00b. When your friends do it, point them in a better direction. Good-natured ribbing between peers is fine, but when there’s a power balance inequality, the most human thing to do is for the stronger player to help out the weaker.

We also have to learn a degree of tolerance for people who are better at the game than we are. Most of us are not Reid Duke or Raph Levy. We still have a great deal to learn about the game. Even the best of the best are still learning. Reducing other players’ wins over us to lucksacking, topdecking, or whatever excuse is currently popular demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of one’s own skill—and that lack of understanding will keep you from getting better. Yes, there is variance and chance built into the game. There are times when you lose games that the odds indicated you were going to win. Diminishing someone else’s honest victory just makes you look like a petulant child who didn’t get the GI Joe with the Kung-fu grip.

Narrowing the focus to our favorite format, I will admit that I have in the past been openly derisive about some play styles as they relate to EDH/Commander. This has been the greatest sin of my time in this game’s public eye, and I’ve been working to undo some of the damage it’s done.

My feelings about how to best shape the format for the broadest enjoyment possible remain unchanged. My feelings about the style of game which I prefer remain unchanged. The simple truth is that there isn’t only one way to enjoy this format and I don’t want there to be only one way.

Just like I want to celebrate those 20-somethings who are finding themselves, I want to celebrate all the diverse styles of playing Commander. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to stop speaking about what I see as destructive behavior or talk about why I think the style I prefer is better. It just means that I’m going to work to make people understand that it’s okay for their preference to be different than mine.

Some folks believe that as the primary public face of the format that I shouldn’t express a preference because expressing a preference automatically diminishes whatever it is that I’m not highlighting, that because I don’t prefer something it automatically implies I think the other thing is bad. I find this argument nonsensical. Because I prefer redheads, that doesn’t mean I think blondes, brunettes, or women with no hair at all aren’t beautiful. It simply means I prefer redheads. There’s no implication that I think you should prefer redheads too. Even if I share with you how spectacular I think redheads are, there’s no slight to anyone. Someone who sees a slight in that is just looking for a reason to be upset.

I’ll also point out that there’s a significant different between what I see as healthy for the format as a whole and my personal preferences. The way the RC is guiding the format isn’t necessarily geared toward the specific game we want to play in but the direction we see as the greatest benefit for the largest number of the format’s fans. A major part of this guidance is that we want local groups to make some of their own decisions.

I don’t see it as intolerant to want to play or not play with specific people. We all have limited amounts of leisure time, so it’s reasonable to want to spend that time enjoying ourselves. Accepting others and actively socializing with others are two different things. We simply can’t spend time with everyone. We can barely find the time to spend with all the people we really want to. The same argument applies to play styles. Whether you find a game that ends on turn 4 too short or too long, it makes sense to play with other people who think the same.

Just like grooving on BDM’s love of the Ramones, I’d like to make the effort to understand other folks’ enjoyment of styles that I don’t care for. There’s plenty of room to see that something that might be detrimental applied to broad scale is just fine on a small one. For example, I think that if a large percentage of Commander games ended with turn 3 kills, people would leave the format in droves. Bringing that down to a group of four or five like-minded people who always play with each other can show us a kind of excitement and mastery that we haven’t experienced before. Just because I think Vintage as the primary format in Magic wouldn’t be the healthiest for the game doesn’t mean I can’t find interesting stuff about Vintage.

Being tolerant doesn’t mean accepting anti-social behavior. If someone’s only goal is to cause misery to others, there’s nothing wrong with removing them from your group. The tolerant move would be to first talk to that person and find out why they’re headed in that direction, to try to get them to understand why their actions are detrimental to the group’s goals. It’s up to them to decide to be more constructive. If they don’t, it’s reasonable to ask them to leave.

Tolerance is more than just not being mean to people who are different than you. It means accepting them and celebrating that difference. It means not trying to force people into your narrow view of the world but letting others’ broaden your own.

Embracing the Tolerance,


Facebook = Sheldon Menery

Twitter = @SheldonMenery

Food and Wine Blog = http://discoveriesinfoodandwine.com/

If you want to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987), ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery Monday Night Gamers."