Each time I consider the subject of Tolerance and Intolerance, I come to the same conclusions, no matter what in what direction I start. We live in a culture that revels in Extremes, and these Extremes strain our sensibilities. The greater the difference between our values and our realities, the greater the conflict and need for resolution.
The food industry seems to cater to extremes. You can go to a ‘fine dining’ restaurant and spend exorbitantly for a quantity of food that amounts to a smudge on your plate. In contrast, sandwich shops create sandwiches and hoagies that are so BIG you have to disarticulate your jaws to get the thing in your mouth (and every time you take a bite, half the contents spill into your lap). Comfort foods often have chemical effects on the body, reducing stress and creating that sense of comfort. A full stomach is always comforting. Still, we have a great national concern over obesity and ‘unhealthy’ diet. A lot of comfort foods are affordable, which is perhaps one more reason people are critical of the obese. If they had any ‘class’, they’d starve themselves in expensive restaurants. The more you spend for the less you get, the more the more you waste, the more affluent and impressive you seem.
Extremes are apparent in social attitude as well. Recently the news media have reported about Christian companies and individuals, refusing to serve people in same-sex relationships. Just this morning there was a report of a garage owner who refuses to serve gay couples, and gives a 10% discount to gun-owners. He is a ‘Christian’. Jesus said something about the requirements for casting the first stone, and in another place, mentioned not judging lest ye also be judged. Although I’m sure it occurs in other religions, these protests are most noticeable in Christianity, with people using the religion based in part on loving your neighbour as yourself to excuse their own fears, insecurities, and prejudices.
Societal critics angrily descry extremes in governmental spending on war vs homelessness. Social service programmes pride themselves on ‘helping the poor,’ but only help the poor to remain poor; financial assistance doesn’t cover even basic real-life expenses. Critics support rights to freedom of speech, bearing arms, etc, until someone actually exercises them. They proclaim the justice system until the courts do not support popular opinion of someone’s guilt, then run riot.
What has this to do with tolerance?
The mistaken notion of tolerance is that it means approval, agreement, compliance, or membership. You can show tolerance for another culture, religion, life-style, or political attitude without agreeing, embracing, or having to be ‘one of them’. Another connotation of tolerance is ‘putting up with’, so the person who is tolerant of racial equality or equal rights for women is risking a lot to say so, even when s/he means it in the most positive way. Tolerance doesn’t mean putting up with something, it means letting something alone.
Tolerance and intolerance set boundaries, and the boundaries may have to be flexible. How rigid to you want to be when your priorities conflict with your standards? We must be clear about our boundaries without being judgemental. Our responsibility is not to make decisions and choices for other people, to impose our values on them, or decide whether they’re good or evil, particularly when who or what they are has no bearing on who or what we are.
The world is big enough to make difference possible, and small enough to make tolerance (allowing differences to exist unmolested) necessary. If we could accept that point of view, we would be a much happier, peaceful and peaceable society. There is wisdom in the adage ‘live and let live.’
The people you do not tolerate may not tolerate you either. What then?
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