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Tolerance vs. Agreement

ARE YOU INTOLERANT? I have been thinking about this issue quite a bit lately. I have been reflecting on the subtle, but substantial, redefining of the word in recent years. Have you noticed it, too? Today, we are told that we must be tolerant of all beliefs and behaviors. The only thing that cannot be tolerated is intolerance (translated: those who believe in universal truth and think they have “the truth” on an issue). By intolerance, people now mean failure to accept all beliefs and viewpoints as equally valid and acceptable.

Historically, and in my experience, tolerance has been the recognition of the fact that different people have different beliefs and viewpoints on subjects. Though I may not agree with their conclusions, I respect their right to hold them and express them. I may choose to enter into a discussion or argument with them over the substance of the subject. I will seek to change them by persuasive argument (or be changed by them if their arguments are more weighty), not force or manipulation.

But, things have changed in recent years. The old idea of respecting the person and debating the ideas has now changed to refusal to debate the substance and instead attacking the person for being intolerant. It appears that the only thing not to be tolerated is someone’s belief that there is universal truth (things that are “true” objectively and independent of whether or not any one believes or accepts them). Every kooky idea or moral aberration is now to be viewed as “normal” or you are called an intolerant bigot worthy of horrible things happening to you.

The debate used to be over “Is it TRUE?” That no longer matters. The only thing that matters today is “Was someone OFFENDED?” (The truth will set you free; but, first it will make you mad.)

Truth, by its nature, is intolerant of falsehood. The world has been changed many times by the intolerant who saw something was wrong and challenged it. Today, we celebrate Independence Day when citizens separated themselves from the tyranny of King George and the British Empire. The same is true of freedom from slavery, civil rights, voting rights, etc. All came because people saw the injustice within the status quo and refused to tolerate it any longer. They didn’t accept the prevailing view or decide that all positions were equally valid. Were these people wrong to be intolerant? (Most of the needed changes took place as the result of education and persuasive arguments.)

Here is the subtle change I have witnessed and am distressed by. Tolerance used to be “the acceptance of the EXISTENCE of differing viewpoints.” It has now become “the acceptance of ALL differing viewpoints” (at minimum, seeing them as being at least as valid as my own). It used to be willingness to coexist with conflicting views. Diversity existed. But, so did civil debate / discussion. It is now required that one accept all of the contradictory ideas or be labeled intolerant. Those preaching tolerance the loudest have become the most intolerant (in the traditional sense).

George Orwell (author of Animal Farm and 1984) said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.” I grew up hearing the expression: “I may not agree with you, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” That has transformed into “I may not agree with you, and I will trash your name and reputation, insult you, persecute you, try to get you fired from your job, and hope you die a horrible death if you say anything with which I disagree!” 

Isn’t this what we are witnessing on college campuses which traditionally have been places of free and open exchange of ideas and an opportunity to have your beliefs challenged by those with whom you may disagree. The idea was to expose yourself to lots of things you may not have previously considered.

Now, the existence of the Marxist Socialist Liberating Tolerance has us seeing toleration only of people and viewpoints pre-approved by the socialists. Anyone with a contrary view (a conservative, typically) who is invited to speak on campus will be silenced through violent protest, threats, mob rule, destruction of property, assault on opponents, etc. These very tolerant people will not tolerate the presentation of any opposing viewpoint. Now, many campuses are places where you must walk in lockstep with the socialistic doctrines or be attacked for your intolerance, convicted in by a kangaroo court and forced to apologize to the offended parties or maybe even be expelled..

Here is what I consider to be the key point to my message. TOLERANCE is NOT the same thing as AGREEMENT. “Tolerance” and “Agreement” are polar opposites. How, and why, would someone tolerate something they already agree with and approve? There is no tolerance unless you first disagree/disapprove. Tolerance is indulging viewpoints other than your own. Though you do not agree with them, you respect the rights of others to hold them, if they so choose. You show tolerance or intolerance by how you TREAT those with whom you disagree. Would you agree that we are not doing a very good job of it currently in this country? There is little respect or tolerance shown for contrary viewpoints and even less for the people who hold them.

One additional thought. Truth has become the new hate speech. If someone believes that what someone else believes is wrong and tells them so, they will be attacked as “haters” (or "racists") and for "offending" others. By the way, it has always been true that those who do not love truth will always be offended by truth, even when told kindly. Someone can disagree with the beliefs or the lifestyle of another without hating them. In fact, if one is convinced that another is wrong and is heading into danger, what would be the loving thing to do? That’s right! Correct them or warn them. Does telling you the truth make me your enemy? It shouldn’t. It should rather be seen as speaking the truth in love. It should make me your best friend. We can, and should, love others, even when we disagree with what they say or do. I am going to work on this in my life. Will you join me?