The Study of Tolerance / Yoani Sánchez

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo LazoSome years ago I had a verbal tic that I interspersed between sentences. A repeated, “You know what I mean?” capable of annoying even my most understanding friends. I said it at the least appropriate times and one day someone gave me a lesson, “Why do you think I don’t understand you? Isn’t it you who doesn’t know how to explain?” Language has this ability to undress us and leave us open; words reveal what we hide under a veneer of good cheer. Social networks in particular have become a gateway through which we travel in our undergarments before the scrutiny of readers, friends and a vast legion of critics. Each monosyllable we write for these conglomerates of opinion give us away and strip us bare.

I remember when I started with Twitter my voice was more awkward, less familiar with the plurality that a space like this harbors. Since August 2008, when I opened my account on this microblogging service, every slice of 140 characters published has made me a more tolerant and respectful person. Hence my surprise when Mariela Castro responded to the question I posed in a tweet: When will we Cubans come out of the other closets?

The personal attack with which she responded stunned me. I did not expect a hand extended in dialog, certainly, but neither did I expect arrogance. It’s true that I need to study, as she suggested, and I will do so and continue to do so until my eyes can no longer distinguish the lines in my books and my rheumatic fingers can no find the keys on the keyboard. However, I have learned that to evade a question by attacking the other’s lack of education borders on arrogance. Faced with such a reaction, what kind of onslaught would a peasant who barely finished sixth grade receive, were he to address the director of the National Center of Sex Education?

I believe, however, that in the manner of that silly catchphrase I once had, verbal attack is a habit that can be cured. The voice can be trained, tolerance acquired, the ear opened to listening to others. Twitter is a magnificent therapy to achieve this. I suppose that as the days pass and as Mariela Castro continues to publish, she will come to better understand the norms of democratic dialog, without hierarchies, where no one tries to give lessons to anyone. When this time comes, I hope we can converse, have a coffee, “study” together — why not? — the long and difficult road that lies ahead for us.