by David Dower
At today's post-show discussion, our guest moderator was Professor James Lamiell, of Georgetown University. He introduced the topic of "Virtuous Tolerance", which is in ample evidence in Jane Anderson's The Quality of Life. Here's a brief synopsis from his writing:
He spoke about the concept of tolerance as it is currently understood and practiced in our civic relationships as something more akin to forebearance than empathy. A sort of cosmic shrug on differences, an entire country saying to each other "Whatever". Jane Anderson, who joined him on stage, picked up on the notion of Virtuous Tolerance being demanding. She spoke of her own rage at, and dissapproval of, the protesters here last weekend who's dissent took an extreme and alienating form for her at the rally. But she also spoke of learning from her own play, recalling that a few years back she was here marching for Gay Rights in equally strident and alienating terms. "If I don't want people to ridicule and dismiss my values, and my dissent, it is on me to make room for these people to express themselves as well, in their terms." She went on to say that "If you find yourself depressed or losing hope over the tone of the conversation, or worried about our country, you are here in Washington. You need only walk the mall, go to the Jefferson Memorial and see those big words, see the fabulous minds of our Founding Fathers on display in this city, and you'll know we're on a solid foundation. We're still in good shape."
What's remarkable, and deeply moving, in this play is the way Jane has allowed each of her characters, who are arrayed along a values spectrum from Conservative to Liberal, to be changed by each of the others. The conservative Christian Bill is altered by his Act 2 encounter with the liberal, agnostic Jeanette and finds his way back to a deeper dialogue with his wife. Jeanette, for her part, finally asks Bill for instruction for how to "get out of bed" following a tragic loss. She is able to turn away from her own abyss as a result of their exchange. Even the two characters in the middle of the spectrum grow from the intense give and take of the conversation, with Dinah finding her own spine and voice-- locating herself after being swallowed by her own grief for so long-- and Neil finding the words to both confront and console his own shattered wife, Jeanette.
This, Dr. Lamiell seems to say, is that destination we are seeking-- a place of Virtuous Tolerance. Not simply putting up with each other's differences, but engaging each other as different, and in the process moving each of us to a deeper understanding of our personal complexity as well as the complexity of our culture.
There are more of these stimulating discussions to come. The complete schedule is here. I hope you will join us for one or many of them. These discussions are free and open to the public, but your engagement with them will be greatly impacted by having seen the play beforehand. They are made possible by the deep generosity of Mr. Andrew Ammerman, who has underwritten the entire series of events that constitutes our elaborate and enriching partnership with Georgetown University.