The Intolerance of Tolerance

Tolerance: the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.

Tolerate: allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference. 

Tolerance is a virtue that many people espouse, but I wonder how many of those calling for tolerance really understand what the word means.  Tolerance does not mean that we all agree with each other.  Tolerance implies just the opposite.  We have differing opinions, beliefs or behaviors that we disagree about.  Tolerance means that we recognize the differences, and the expression of those differences, without interfering with another’s practice of those differences.

I believe homosexuality is wrong.  Some will say that is an intolerant position.  But what they are really saying is that they are offended that I believe differently than they do.  I have no interest in locking up homosexuals, or depriving them of any rights.  I would not dream of picketing outside my neighbor’s house or otherwise trying to make life living next door to me be miserable.  If I owned a business, I would not exclude homosexuals from patronizing that business.  Nor do I fight against the extension of spousal benefits to homosexual couples.

I disagree with what they do, but I am willing to tolerate it, at least so long as I am not forced to do something contrary to my own beliefs.  And I believe that is an important attribute for a society that is as diverse as ours.  If we fought over everything with which we disagree, then we would accomplish even less than we do now.

And that brings me to the news this morning that Phil Robertson has been fired from his Duck Dynasty TV show because he dared to express a belief that was offensive to the homosexual community.  Nowhere have I found anything that would indicate he was trying to interfere with their lifestyle choices.  As far as I know he is not lobbying against homosexual rights.  The network that fired him admitted that his views were not being expressed on the show.  The only issue seems to be that he publicly expressed an opinion that was offensive to a group that has itself made a strong plea for tolerance.  And they put pressure on the network to punish him for that offensive (to them) opinion.

I find it a sad commentary on our supposedly enlightened society that we are so intolerant of opposing viewpoints, while at the same time calling for tolerance of our own.  Christians are often intolerant; sometimes even of each other.  Atheists are frequently intolerant of religious views.  Homosexuals are intolerant of anyone who seems not to be on their bandwagon.  Democrats are intolerant of Republicans.  Republicans are intolerant of Democrats.  So many things that cause disagreement among us, and cause us to take up arms against each other.

Are we really that insecure that opposing views cause us so much angst?

Can’t we just accept that we disagree and get along?

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