Friday, September 01, 2017

Should We Tolerate Intolerance?

Written by  Brian George Hose

Should intolerance be tolerated? That question has weighed on my mind since the events of Charlottesville. It’s a paradox: If you think of yourself as tolerant it means, by definition, that you tolerate opinions and perspectives that are different from your own. Otherwise, by not being open to all perspectives and opinions, including ones that are intolerant, it would seem that you’ve become intolerant yourself. So, what’s a tolerant person to do when faced with intolerance? The answer may surprise you.

Let’s start with the words themselves. I’ve never been a big fan of “tolerance” in a social or political context because I think the more appropriate word is “acceptance.” We tolerate things we wish we could avoid, but can’t, whereas acceptance is an embracing of difference. For example, we want friends who accept us, not tolerate us like a burden. So, by changing the word we find a much more positive, affirming, accurate definition of what we call tolerance. Ironically, the same isn’t true if we change intolerance to non-acceptance. The definition stays the same because that’s what intolerance is, the refusal to accept difference and to actively avoid or destroy it.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get back to the question of tolerating intolerance. Many tolerant / accepting people value collaboration and problem-solving. This usually involves discussions about differing values and perspectives, which is why it’s important to be open to what others have to say. The goal is to get everybody on the same page, to allow all parties to feel heard and validated, and to reach a conclusion that everyone is happy with. This is a tried-and-true approach for solving problems that all parties wish to resolve.

But, by definition, intolerance does not allow for differing opinions. Intolerance wants to be the only option, the law of the land. If we tolerate intolerance, we do so knowing that intolerance will not change and will actively try to destroy its opposition, which is tolerance. So, allowing intolerance essentially undermines tolerance and efforts to allow everyone to have a voice and an opinion. It’s like creating a monster, teaching it English, then giving it a bullhorn. If we want to live in a world of diversity, opportunity, and equality, we cannot allow intolerance to go unchecked, otherwise it will destroy everything that isn’t itself.

I’m writing this hours after learning that Joe Arpaio, the infamous rogue ex-sheriff from Arizona, was pardoned. The pardon wasn’t exactly a surprise, but I still got a sinking feeling in my gut when I heard about it because of the message it sends to the alt-right, Nazis, and white supremacists representing intolerance. It was said that if Arpaio was pardoned it would act as a bullhorn to these groups, and, following the events in Charlottesville, it doubles as a slap in the face to many Americans affected and concerned about racial inequality. If our president condones this behavior, isn’t that the same as supporting and encouraging it?

This is why it’s important that we not tolerate intolerance. To me, the very idea of this kind of intolerance goes against everything I believe about our country. America is a place, but it’s also an idea, a radical theory and social experiment that values freedom, diversity, equality, justice, and opportunity. Without these values, what are we?

If you find yourself in need of guidance during these trying, paradoxical times, look to your heart. Resisting intolerance is not the same as fighting hate with hate – it’s supporting the things you love, the things that intolerance is fighting against. Intolerance stirs strong feelings because it is an afront to what we love. So, find your love, nurture it, and let it guide you.


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