Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog


Tolerance; What it Really Means

We've all heard them a lot, lately. Folks on either side of the political debate talking about how they simply can't stand to be around people on the other side. Conservatives even have their own dating website, so that they don't have to worry about meeting somebody who might be a gasp liberal! The ideological divide has grown so deep, that for some, it is impossible to bridge even socially.

And it isn't just politics. Segregation has once again become a hot topic, although this time it is the minorities clamoring for separate schools and such. They want to maintain their cultural identity. Immigrants coming to the US have always formed their own communities, where they could bring a little of the home country with them, but until recently, they all wanted to become part of America. Now, it seems that many of them look at America as a place to live and work, not a home.

We're becoming a society divided by our differences instead of united by our commonalities, and we're weaker for it.

How is it that in a time when we're being bombarded with messages about inclusiveness, tolerance, and "Can't we all just get along?" that we're fast becoming the Disunited States of America?

I think that part of the problem is that we've allowed those values that once made America great to fall into disrepute. Today, you're much more likely to hear patriotism denigrated rather than praised. We push reliance on the government over independence. We push conformity over individualism. We actually punish people for being different.

We've lost the meaning of the word tolerance. For most of us, tolerance extends only so far as our own beliefs allow. For example, for most people, bigotry and prejudice are bad things, and we work to avoid them. In fact, we work so hard to avoid them that we have actually criminalized their very expression. A man can be scrupulously fair in his dealings with people of all races, but if he voices his opinions, he is punished, not for what he does, but what he believes.

Is this tolerance?

Let's take a look at another man, also a bigot. He shuns the object of his hatred, ans works to shut them out of his life totally, using the law wherever possible. He speaks out against them, calling them names, and making sure that those people know exactly how he feels about them.

A pretty reprehensible character, that one, eh?

But isn't that exactly how we treat him?

If we only extend tolerance to folks we understand and agree with, then we're no different than our hypothetical bigot. The only difference is the target of our intolerance.

Christians have a saying, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." It's an idea we would do well in adopting in our daily life. For example, I'm dead set against illegal immigration; I think it represents a tremendous threat to our country on several levels. However, I don't hate those who are here illegally, nor do I wish them harm. I understand the forces that drive them to come to the US, and the forces that drive American companies to employ them. Another example, I have several folks in my family who are very prejudiced, based both on the way they were raised, and their life experiences. Some of them feel guilty about it, others believe they are absolutely right in how they feel.

Should I condemn them as bigots, and refuse to associate with them?

Heck no! They're family, and that cuts through a lot. And even if they weren't family, they're good people, despite their flaws, and I would be a poorer person without them. Lord knows, I have my own set of flaws, and none of them have walked away from me because of them.

I guess the point I'm trying to get at is that tolerance only counts when it's hard; when the person is so different, or his beliefs are so antithetical to your own that you really have to work to accept him for who he is, instead of trying to change him or shut him up.
Posted by Rich
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