Category Archives: 13. Washington DC and the end of the program

Is tolerance really tolerant?

It seems unreal that exactly a week ago, the program ended and everyone left to resume their separate lives. It’s even more unreal when I think about the experiences that were packed into one month. I was given the chance to explore another country in extraordinary ways and then given the same opportunity in my own country. It’s really amazing when you reflect on how much of your own country’s history and culture remains unfamiliar to you. What’s more, is that until this program, I really didn’t have an understanding of what religious pluralism meant in America, let alone an appreciation for it.

In Indonesia, there is no doubt that religious pluralism exists, but in my opinion, it exists in a limited sort of way. There is a hierarchy of religions in which the six nationally recognized religions are given special privileges over the secondary and rural religions. Furthermore, there are certain sects of religions that are forbidden from being practiced in Indonesia, yet these sects are allowed to practice freely in the United States. To me, this demonstrates a difference in tolerance between the two countries. The United States on a whole is a more tolerant country in terms of religious practices than Indonesia is. While many people may look at this and think, wow that’s great, I’m not really sure it is. When we went to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit, a man who worked there asked us if a tolerant society is the best solution. Tolerance doesn’t encourage people to embrace and learn from other ideologies; instead it asks us to merely show “willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” Tolerance is most definitely better than any other violent alternative but is it something that we ought to strive for? Or is it merely a stepping-stone between two places? And if so, what’s the next step for us as a society to move past tolerant behavior?

 For me, I see the solution to tolerance as a move towards a more compassionately oriented society. During the trip, we spent a day at the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in Washington, New Jersey. There we participated in a meditation session and also attended a Buddhist class. Through those experiences, we were exposed to what one might call a Tibetan Buddhist’s approach to life. An approach that is simple in its understanding and refreshing in its ideology. For Tibetan Buddhists, there is an emphasis on compassion for all mankind, regardless of past grievances. Compassion is compulsory even for those who have committed an act of violence against one another. Moreover, there is not just to be a tolerance for other religions but an embracement of them, a love for those who find their truths in another religious practice. In a society that reflects a Tibetan Buddhist approach, there would arguably be less conflict and harmful misconceptions, as embracing another religion calls for a greater understanding of it, a greater appreciation of the difference. I don’t see that the Tibetan Buddhist ideology as only limited the Buddhist religion. I see it as an ideology that can be adopted by all different schools of religious thought, an ideology that speaks for a more peaceful and equal society, the kind of society in which all religions should strive to create.

Tolerance walks a thin line, as its pillars are weak and thus can easily be transformed into a deep seeded hate for those who are different. Before WWII, in Germany and parts of Eastern Europe, while the Jews were most certainly discriminated against, they lived in a society that was more or less tolerant to their religious views. Yet that tolerance was never developed into compassion and instead, grew stagnant. During the Holocaust, tolerance worked in the Nazi’s favor as those who did not agree with their ideology simply tolerated their existence and as a result, 6 million Jews perished. While this is an extreme example, it nevertheless shows what can happen in a society that endorses tolerant behavior.

In this way, to ensure progress, we must constantly work to push our society beyond a simple tolerant view of those different from us. While this change may seem daunting, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Anne Frank, a quote I find particularly inspiring.

 “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”




We arrived in D.C at round midnight.  By the time we made our way through the train station we were all so weighed down by our fatigue that we could barely take in how gorgeous an empty Union Station was at night.  We got to our dorms at George Washington University and passed out.

Our first stop in D.C was to visit the important capitol buildings.  Of course there were tons of tour groups and we all were herded from one historic room to the other like cattle, our heads all turning and dipping and gawking in unison as our tour guide took us from room to room.  I certainly have an appreciation for history and for historic sites but I find the company of hundreds of other people to be a distraction from all of the important things we saw on the tour.

I am quite glad that I have gotten to understand the way that the United States government operates better  since doing this program.  I feel a bit more competent as an American citizen now.  Anyway, after seeing the capital building we went to the Indonesian Embassy in D.C to meet with the ambassador.  The embassy was one of the most beautiful buildings that I’d ever seen.  The Indonesian Ambassador was so incredibly friendly and down to earth.  He was so funny and was just a really likeable guy.  We met with him for about an hour and then posed for some pictures where we also got to meet his beautiful wife.  They seemed like some of the coolest people…ever and I kinda didn’t want to leave 😛

So after our meeting we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then went for a walking tour of the monuments.  We got about less than halfway through the tour before the exhaustion and pain of walking around for hours forced us to call it quits.

The next day was a lot less packed, we went to Arlington cemetary and saw the exchange of the guards.  I had never been to Arlington before and there really is nothing like seeing a sea of white headstones to make you understand the horrors and senselessness of war.  The entire time we were on the tour all I could think of was “were all of these deaths really worth it?”  I think war is a horrible thing and it makes me sad that we have been in this one for so long.  I won’t go off into an anti-war tangent but having that visual representation of all of the young lives throughout history that have been lost because of war just makes me angry.

Seeing the exchange of the guards was a real treat…not just because they were cuties.  It was interesting to see how precise and involved getting off your shift at work can be.  But really it made me feel a sense of pride and patriotism.  The American military fascinates me.  We also saw the Kennedy’s memorials and I got to learn a little bit more about their place in American history from Jack and Debra.  Of course, I was not anywhere near alive to understand all of the drama and tragedy that followed the Kennedy family so it was interesting to hear them from the perspective of people who grew up during that time.

The next day we spent in D.C was relatively low-key.  We went to the Holocaust museum which was an amazing museum but also a very difficult museum to visit.  The museum was huge and it really took you through life before during and after the Holocaust.  The exhibits gave you an idea of what it would have been like to be a Jew in Europe during that time.  There was even a video that had real Holocaust survivors talking about what their experiences were like in the concentration camps.  As they were telling their stories of all of the horrific things that they had witnessed, I couldn’t help but appreciate the strength of the human spirit.  The idea of genocides and ethnic cleansings is so deeply disturbing to me and it sickens and saddens me that such terrible events are still happening in the world today.  Once we left the museum we went back to the monuments to finish our tour.  It was a much welcomed slower pace to the day and we ended with a nice dinner at a Tapas restaurant in Georgetown.

The Fourth of July came and excitement was in the air.  I managed to put together a red, white, and blue outfit and we all set out to watch the parade.  The parade was nice but slow-moving so we left before it ended to have lunch.  Later that evening we put together some classic American snacks and headed to the Washington Monument to watch the fireworks.  One fun fact about me…I am terrified of fireworks.  Most people think they’re beautiful and fun, I think they’re horrifying and dangerous.  So as much as I could appreciate the opportunity to be in the Nation’s capital on the 4th of July I was honestly pretty shaken by the fireworks…embarrassingly disturbed.

But they didn’t last long and after they were over we headed back to our dorms and prepared to pack up and say our good-byes.  It was so hard to part ways with everyone, however, I feel confident that we will see each other again.  This has been one amazing experience and I feel so fortunate and appreciative of all the wonderful people I’ve met and all the fantastic things that I’ve gotten to do in one amazing month. Thank yooouuuu soooo much to everyone who made this trip possible!