Saturday, August 18, 2012


I've begun to wonder if "Tolerance" has gone from "sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own" to "proof that I am an upstanding and righteous person." Now, for the record, I don't consider myself to be so much a Tolerant person as an Indifferent one. (It's remarkable how easy it is to appear open and accepting when you can't be bothered to care.) This is mainly because most people no matter how much their beliefs and/or practices differ from, or even directly conflict with my own, they can't or won't normally do anything to injure me. I mean, I spent a half-hour one day in a bar in Seattle talking to a White Supremacist. He actually turned out to be a really nice guy, but even so, it's not like he was going to start his racial Holy War in a downtown bar on a Friday night.

Of course, we've made Tolerant and Intolerant, much like Racist, Bigot, Retard and Politician, into loaded terms that carry quite a bit more emotional baggage than is even close to being warranted, and so like many people, I tend to bristle for an instant when someone says: "You know what? You're an intolerant hater," until my brain kicks in and I find myself itching to say: "You know what? You're right!"

I think that one of the meanings that we've freighted "Intolerant" with, intentionally or not, is "coward." And many of us don't like to admit when something makes us uncomfortable or afraid. And when it comes to matters of belief and practice, many of us seem intent to framing things in a way that makes others uncomfortable, afraid or even downright terrified. But then we don't like to acknowledge the fact that we've done so. It's one thing when you're discussing some random topic with someone. But when you're discussing what you know to be a hot-button issue, it's worthwhile to seek an understanding of where the other person is at with it prior to going for the jugular. If for no other reason than when people feel threatened, they tend to go on the offensive.

We shouldn't need to prove something to each other all of the time. There's no advantage in playing an ever-escalating game of I'm smarter/braver/more tolerant than you are. But if that's the direction that we want to move things in, we have to stop making it an error to ever admit to a moment's weakness. Maybe we need less sympathy for each others beliefs and practices, and more for just each other.

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