Tolerance is difficult but well worth the effort

Tolerance is very difficult, but well worth the effort.

Tolerance is an advanced concept, reserved for the most civilized of cultures. In a social context, a definition of tolerance might be that it is to have an attitude of objectivity and fairness towards races, opinions, religions and practices that are markedly different from your own.

Sounds pretty good, right? So if you are a politician in a heated debate with someone over an issue, you can act like adults and listen to each other’s points in a fair and objective manner, with grace and intelligence. Umm, yeah, suuuure you can.

And Spin doctors treat motion sickness.

Most of us choose our friends based on how well they fit into our own world view. It’s natural to want to be around people who share your basic view of things. It’s normal, so don’t think I’m running anyone down over it. I do it too. But I like to think I am capable of expanding my world view a bit to include more variety.

To be a tolerant individual means that you also make room for those who may not exactly fit into that clique: perhaps you are an atheist, but your friend is Catholic. You favor a Pro-choice stance but they are Anti-abortion. To maintain the friendship you agree to disagree and try not to bump into one another at the rallies. That is one form of tolerance: an intellectual stance of respect for the attitudes and beliefs held by someone else.

Maybe there is a Muslim family in your neighborhood; perhaps their daughter wears the hijab, the traditional religious head scarf. Maybe she gets some flak for it, times being what they are. Tolerance in action would be walking her home safely and to introduce yourself to her family. To get a good neighbor you have to be one, don’t you? Makes sense to most people.

And then there is the advanced form of tolerance: respecting someone’s legal right to do something that makes you absolutely grind your teeth in frustration.

I have a passionate dislike for racism, but I must acknowledge that a Neo-Nazi has the same civil rights as anyone else to hold their views, no matter how repellant I personally find them. (I am likely to point out that the human genome project has proven that all of humanity is interrelated and came from Africa, many hundreds of thousands of years ago; but that is because I have a problem keeping my mouth shut at the best of times.)

That is where the objective part of tolerance comes into play. While I can support that a racist may hold those views, I cannot permit those views to be imposed on someone else without their consent. That is where tolerance becomes very, very hard.

My father was a WWII veteran. During the McCarthy era he hired a man who was under suspicion of being a communist. It was a difficult and dangerous decision for my parents to make at that time, when so little could get you investigated. While my father had no love for communism, he also had no love for trying to control how people thought. An advanced concept for the mid-twentieth century.

He was an ordinary man; not an intellectual or any sort of a free-thinker. He worked hard, went to church as everyone did back then and tried to raise his family as best he could. But he understood tolerance, not as an abstract, but rather it went to his very bones.

Tolerance was and is a part of living and helps to make our lives better, more rounded and far more interesting. New ideas can be discussed and savored, new art can be enjoyed or rejected, but from reason, not a knee-jerk reaction to the unfamiliar. While we may be shocked from time to time, there is nothing in the Bill of Rights that says we have a right to not be shocked. Thank goodness.

Tolerance is a form of respect for the lives, religions and opinions of others.

Tolerance is a right and a benefit to both those who receive it and those who practice it.

Tolerance is a necessity as our world continues to expand and we become more involved with the rest of the people who live in it.

Tolerance is a debt that sentient beings owe to one another and is paid in peace and cooperation.

Or at least that’s the way we would all like it to be.

Find your peace, Friends.

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