Monthly Archives: February 2010

Tolerance

Tolerance is a word that is tossed around a ton by different people and is used to mean very different things depending on who uses it. I decided that it would be a fairly enlightening experience if I looked up the definition from two very different sources, one being Dictionary.com and the popular Urban Dictionary.

Dictionary.com:

–noun

1.

a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.

2.

a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.

3.

interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.

Urban Dictionary:

1)Tolerance (active): The idea that one should attempt to overcome a belief, prejudice or hatred that they hold.
2) Tolerance (passive): The process by which one gradually become less and less bothered by another belief, prejudice or hatred due to continued exposure.
3) Tolerance (liberal): What the majority should have towards minorities, but not vice versa.

Crazy isn’t it? It would appear that those are two very different definitions. It’s a distinction that I think is an important one to make and I generally tend to refer to these two definitions as “old tolerance” and “new tolerance.” Not to say that these are the two be all and end all definitions for the concept of tolerance, but only that, historically speaking, there has been a shift from one to the other. Dictionary.com seems to suggest that the word tolerance means something different than what most people today would take the concept to mean. Normally when I refer to the old idea of tolerance and the new idea of tolerance I define it them in the following ways: tolerance used to mean that if you disagreed with someone’s point of view, you could openly and respectfully disagree and could dialogue a bit; the new tolerance has taken a postmodern slant and now means that instead of just respecting differences in opinion, you now have to take any sort of disagreement and never really voice it, you have to take everyone’s opinion as being “true for them” and equal in truth to your own opinion.

I know that was a lot, so I’m going to unpack that a bit hopefully. I recently heard a statement in a sermon that I think nails this problem right on the head, the man said that the problem with American society is that it has blurred the line of tolerance and acceptance. What he meant by that is that they have essentially become the exact same thing, and that’s actually a dangerous notion. For example, I don’t approve of homosexual marriage, now under the old tolerance that would actually be ok because I could respectfully disagree with someone’s opinion or lifestyle and voice why I thought so and nobody would walk away angry so long as it was done in a respectful manner. Under new tolerance however, I would be told that because I don’t accept someone else’s lifestyle that I am now a bigot (not everyone acts this way, I know).

I’m aware that the issue of homosexual marriage is a controversial one and I can see already the comments that I will probably get for using it as an example. However, this is not a solitary issue; these issues include religion, race, politics, marriage, etc. Some are certainly more potent than others, but they are still there. I was reading an article recently that mentioned tolerance and made a good point, she said that “The word tolerate itself implies that I respect the other person’s right to express their view. (If I agree with them there’s nothing to tolerate!)” and here is where we start to see new tolerance running into walls. If you disagree with something, even if it is a commonly held or popular view, you should be able to do so without hostility. For example, if someone comes up to me and says “there is no such being as God” I am not at all going to brand this person a bigot and try and shun them out of my life. I have several friends who believe contrary to what I believe with respect to God, and we’re able to dialogue about the issue just fine. The point of tolerance is that you are supposed to be able to realize the disagreement publically, so that there is no misunderstanding on where the other person stands and then progress with the conversation. New tolerance tells you that you have to accept that other view, which on the surface seems ok, right? What does that loaded phrase mean? Basically (not universally) it means that you shouldn’t be rocking the boat if you have a differing opinion, especially if it’s a “hot” topic. If everyone just accepts everyone else’s opinion as being true and nobody disagrees with anyone else publically, then society will be all the better for it….right?

That sounds like a nice idea, nobody disagreeing with anyone else. You can’t hurt people’s feelings that way at least. I would like to submit to you that this view is actually a self-defeating one. I say that because if you take the idea of new tolerance, you have to include everyone in your scope. What happens when you run into a person who doesn’t agree on the first step with you, of the new tolerance itself? Would you have to take that person’s view as equally right with your own? I believe that this view can actually be very dangerous when taken to its logical end. If it was socially/politically incorrect to disagree with someone and then to dialogue with them about the issue, what would happen when authorities had differing opinions than you? What would happen if the president, congress, the police, the church etc did something that you didn’t agree with? Would you disagree with them? Would you even know how? Would you be allowed? I can tell you right now that new tolerance isn’t just a sociocultural thing, and that it has long since crossed into the political scene. I’m sure you’ve heard the line that if you disagree with our current president, then clearly you’re racist. The common buzzwords that you’re going to hear from proponents of new tolerance are things like this “well, you’re just narrow minded”, “you’re naive”, “that makes you a bigot” etc. This has gotten a bit more political than I originally intended so I’ll try and bring it back around.

People should be able to disagree publically without being shunned by one group or another. If you disagree with me about anything that I’ve said, great, let’s talk. I’m one of those people who are vocal about my disagreements, and yes, I can tend to get argumentative depending on the issue at hand. However, I will never dismiss someone solely based on an opposing viewpoint. We live in a free country (so far) so let’s not lose our ability to think critically, to debate, to be able to publically and respectfully disagree without people getting up in arms about it.

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