Tolerance: Seemingly No Longer a Virtue

Everywhere I look I hear people screaming for tolerance. But it seems like for the most part they are wanting people to accept them and their opinions, without being willing to reciprocate. Google defines tolerance as “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” It means I don’t get all bent out of shape when someone disagrees with me, implying that I can carry on a reasonable dialog with one who shares a differing opinion.

My face to face social interaction with other people is fairly limited, and mostly involves others somewhat like I am and in the context of a church. My biggest social interaction with the world is via facebook, and even that is limited to people I have chosen to befriend. And I watch the news; sometimes. I say that to admit that my sample size for drawing conclusions on tolerance in our world is fairly small.

Facebook somehow seems to embolden people. I am surprised at how much bolder and in your face some people are when online as opposed to real personal interaction. Especially if they are somewhat anonymous, although that is not really the case with facebook. Sitting down at a keyboard seems to bring out the worst in people.

During the most recent presidential campaign, I had a large number of friends who supported one or the other of the two primary candidates. And I do not recall any of them who had anything positive to say about the opposition. Some were positive about their own candidate, but most seemed to focus on the faults, whether real or perceived, of the opposition. I had a seemingly endless number of angry sound bytes on my news feed expressing how the country would not survive if whoever the poster didn’t like was elected. And even well after the election the flood of hatred has not slowed much.

And it’s not just presidential candidates that seems to generate this much strife. Oil pipelines, homosexual rights, race relations, gun control, foreign aid and immigration, religion, entitlements, women’s rights, animal rights, and on and on and on. Why are we so disagreeable. Is there any hope that our fractured society can stop its headlong flight into chaos? I must admit to being somewhat pessimistic about it.

Now don’t get me wrong. Disagreement is not always bad, and can even be constructive. The best way for me to learn is to sit down with someone with an opposing view and to rationally and calmly dialog with them. In that environment, where I am forced to actually defend my position as well as learn the other side, I find myself growing and maturing. I may never come to agreement with my challenger, but I can respect them and often times develop real friendship with them.

But when I am convinced of the rightness of my position, and the wrongness of the opposition, then I don’t really feel the need to invest any time learning either position. And debate degenerates into research for little canned sound bytes that I can use to attempt to bludgeon my opponent into submission; although in reality they are so busy doing the same thing that neither has the time or inclination to even thoroughly read their own propaganda, much less what is being delivered to them from the other side.

Now I certainly have opinions, actually a lot lot of them, and about most everything. And I do honestly believe my positions are correct, otherwise I would not hold them. But I am also smart enough to realize that there is little chance that I am actually correct on all of them; there is very little chance that I am the only one in all the world who has it all figured out. I also tend to be someone who believes that for many issues, although not all, there is right and wrong, and that it is not just a matter of who is strongest or of group consensus.

So how do I ensure that my opinions or beliefs are right, as well as bring you around to right opinions? Tolerance is essential. I need to be willing to learn from you, and respectfully share with you what I understand to be true. If we will both do that, then maybe, just maybe, we will both end up on the side of truth; or at the very least learn to respect one another. If we are unwilling to do that, then I am afraid there will no stopping our current descent into chaos.

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