Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tolerance: I just can't take it anymore!

"Tolerance", to me, historically meant trying to live with my little brother without killing him.

Over the years, I've learned it's so much more (and the tables have turned;  my little brother now tolerates ME.)

This observation was heightened this past Sunday as I heard a pastor deliver a message about tolerance during a church service. I have to confess, he talks really fast and he talks for a long time, so I maybe caught 75 percent of what he said, and was in and out of attention for the last 15 minutes or so, watching my children fidget and trying not to do the same. But as most inspirations work, the effects of his talk fermented in my head hours later.

The tolerance he was speaking of, of course, was in relation to "a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry." What I think he was saying was that we should be allowed to speak our minds and beliefs without the threat of prosecution, and should not decry another person for differing beliefs. And of course, he cited freedom of speech, which I discussed in my convoluted way in my blog a few weeks ago.

Which makes sense if you're talking about the obvious superiority of the Green Bay Packers versus the Chicago Bears. See, you have to respect my patriotism of my cheesehead team, just as I have to respect your admiration of Jay Cutler's ability to throw interceptions.

I'm kidding.

But on a basic level, how far do we go? The pastor cited lack of tolerance when a student was prohibited from distributing water bottles at a public school with the verse John 4:14 ("But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.")

OK, so let's change that up. What if that same student distributed water bottles with an anti-Christian message? Do the same policies apply? I think not. Should they? Depends on how you twist and turn and convolute the whole tolerance angle, I suppose.

And don't get me started on the political campaign. I won't even pretend to tell you I'm politically savvy; in fact I'm quite the opposite, and have no business getting into any sort of political debate. But if you wanted to sway me one way or the other, wouldn't you want to tell me how GREAT your candidate is rather than how much the other one SUCKS? Think of it this way. I'm not going to automatically buy the Honda over the Toyota just because you tell me the Toyota once blew a tire on the freeway. I need to know that the Honda is superior to the Toyota, not that the Toyota might be inferior to the Honda. But yet we have to "tolerate" the muckraking and negative campaigning (aka "free speech") that is escalated by individuals' own opinions on the radio, TV and in social media to the point where it is just outright nasty. And as you know, it's getting more and more out of control.

Tolerance. Free speech. They go hand in hand.

Though I agree that we have to be tolerant, I think once again, we're taking that word for granted. Because there is tolerance, we push it to its limits. We say things we shouldn't say, and, in the name of tolerance, demand to be heard. We test the boundaries of what I feel we know in our hearts to be "going too far". Just like playing that free speech card one too many times.

Once again, I doubt our forefathers had any inkling that we would take tolerance and twist and pull it like a Stretch Armstrong doll. And please note that I'm not necessarily talking about tolerance on a global scale, such as what's going on right now in the Middle East. I will not profess to be a political or religious expert and commentator. My point is what I think I neglected to make in the last blog that touched on this subject, and that is that we are using tolerance as an excuse to do whatever the hell we want, then screaming injustice when we're "disrespected".

I understand everyone has convictions and "deserves" to be able to express them. But sometimes, it's all in the presentation, and you can't DEMAND tolerance any more than you can DEMAND respect. It has to be earned. Should we all have it? Sure. Should we shove the fact that we should have it down people's throats by seeing if we can be the loudest and most obnoxious guest at the party? Perhaps not.

Being tolerant means being understanding. Not necessarily understanding, but being understanding. Voltaire said, "What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly - that is the first law of nature. " But by that same token, we should not push the value of tolerance to the brink of disaster without expecting backlash of epic proportions, which to me, negates the basic foundation of the word itself.

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