Tuesday, February 4, 2020

What Tolerance Truly Is

   I know I'm going to open a can of worms with this post, but the topic has been on my mind lately, and I cannot deny its importance. So without further ado, let the can of worms be opened.

   Ah, tolerance. It seems like it's all anybody talks about these days. In any given political or religious disagreement nowadays, especially online, the accusation of intolerance is bound to come up. Christian churches and pastors are told they must declare gay marriage is not a sin or they're not being tolerant. Teachers have been fired for not using transgender students' preferred pronouns on accusations of not being tolerant. Being tolerant is the favorite rallying cry of social justice warriors all across the nation. This movement has become so prevalent that conservatives cringe whenever they/we hear the word "tolerance." And yet...

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   What they are talking about is not tolerance, but adherence. True tolerance is something far different, something that was advocated by none other than Voltaire:
It does not require any great art or studied elocution to prove that Christians ought to tolerate one another. I will go even further and say that we ought to look upon all men as our brothers....It is clear that every private individual who persecutes a man, his brother, because he is not of the same opinion, is a monster....What is a persecutor? He whose wounded pride and furious fanaticism arouse princes and magistrates against innocent men, whose only crime is that of being of a different opinion.
   Voltaire lived in the eighteenth century, in a time when many countries, including his own, still killed those who held to minor differences in beliefs than the state-approved variety. Voltaire argued that people should be able to believe what they like, and live beside each other without resorting to murder, which, naturally, I fully support. But those who argue for "tolerance" today seem to have completely misunderstood the nature of the word tolerance. What they argue is not tolerance at all. It is, as I said, adherence.
   The differences can probably be best illustrated this way. We all have extended families. Within these families are people with widely varying beliefs. We often disagree with our family members on many things, yet we still have family gatherings every so often and (usually) manage not to kill each other over our disagreements. Say you have two uncles, one who thinks Donald John Trump is a gift from Almighty God, and another who thinks he is the Devil incarnate. Their beliefs are diametrically opposed, but they still attend family gatherings together. They may argue politics from time to time, and their arguments can become quite heated, but they don't refuse to see each other just because they disagree on the true nature of Donald Trump. That is toleration, and it is what the United States of America was built upon, the idea that our differences are our strengths. Now, imagine your two uncles never stop arguing until one or the other finally acquiesces and accepts that Donald Trump is either a gift from Almighty God or the Devil incarnate. That is adherence, and it is far too much advocated these days.
   The biggest mistake that seems to lead to this belief is the claim that if you disagree with or plain don't like a person, you are somehow not tolerating someone. However, that could not be further from the truth. The synonyms for "tolerance", according to Merriam-Webster, are forbearance, long-suffering, patience, and sufferance. The claim that one must agree with someone to tolerate them is the most ridiculous of all and easily debunked. After all, you cannot "tolerate" or "forbear" someone you completely agree with. But then there are the claims that if you offend somebody, you are not being tolerant.  The definition for "long-suffering" is "patiently enduring lasting offense or hardship" (emphasis added). Toleration means that we overlook any anger and offense those around us with differing beliefs perpetrate and refuse to pursue persecution against them. Indeed, don't the very connotations of "toleration " imply that we are putting up with something we disagree with, dislike, or possibly even hate?
   Adherence, while touted as the ultimate form of tolerance, is really the exact opposite. We all know people who are vegan, I'm sure. Now, when we bar our vegan friends from the kitchen or try to make them eat non-vegan food, that is intolerance. When we give adherents to all diets the same access to the kitchen or try not to feed our vegan friends non-vegan food, that is toleration. We may understand why they became vegan or we may think being vegan is the stupidest idea since invading Russia in the winter, but being tolerant doesn't require understanding or support, just putting up with each other. When our vegan friends are pressured to accept that not being vegan is better and are forced to apologize for thinking that non-veganism is wrong, or when our vegan friends refuse to use the same kitchen and hang out with us until we acknowledge that not being vegan is wrong and we're all monsters for eating meat, that is adherence. Many social justice warriors today are advocating not tolerance, but adherence. 
   Adherence, in truth, is nothing more than intolerance disguised as tolerance. To be tolerant, we don't have to love each other. We don't even have to like each other. We can think that what each other is doing is a sin. We must not persecute each other for differences in opinion, but that doesn't mean we must affirm each other's beliefs. I personally am not vegan. I don't truly understand why people go vegan when it is not for health reasons. Yet, I have a friend who is vegan for precisely those confusing reasons. I don't treat her like a second-class citizen because she's vegan; she's my friend and we get along very well. But I also don't feel the need to tell her I'm wrong for eating meat or never mention how much I love bacon just because we tolerate each other's differing dietary beliefs. My friend is a vegan. I love bacon. We don't hassle each other about it, but we don't worry about offending each other with our beliefs just because I don't understand why someone would voluntarily give up all animal products and she believes using animal products is wrong. We tolerate each other's beliefs on veganism, but that does not mean we adhere to each other's beliefs. To force others into adherence and claim we cannot get along otherwise and this is how we "tolerate" each other is to spawn wars, tear apart societies, and destroy the very foundations on which this country was founded. Forcing adherence is not being "long-suffering" or "forbearing" with our neighbors' beliefs; it is the opposite. It is intolerance. And, after all, as Voltaire said, "Tolerance has never brought civil war; intolerance has covered the earth with carnage..."
   Sometimes, our beliefs can be offensive to others. Sometimes, other people believe what we are doing is annoying, disgusting, or outright wrong. We can either use this as an occasion to cry for adherence under the guise of tolerance, or instead practice being truly tolerant, being forbearing, long-suffering, patient, and suffering. We can refrain from enforcing our beliefs, we can patiently endure lasting offense or hardship, and we can bear pains or trials calmly or without complaint. Let's stop pretending adherence is tolerance and begin to truly tolerate people's differing beliefs. After all, this is the United States of America. Putting up with people we think are fundamentally wrong is what we do. Yes, we might offend each other. Yes, we might disagree, even argue at times. Crying for adherence leads to war, famine, and death. Tolerance is the only thing that promulgates true peace.

Shel Silverstein
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