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Tolerance, do we have it?

by C. John Grom  |  January 20, 2015

The American Heritage Dictionary’s first definition of tolerance is “The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs and practices or traits of others.”  And by implication, be willing to engage in civil discussions on those beliefs.

The word “Tolerance” took on special meaning in the 1950’s and 60’s when our nation was forced to look itself in the eye regarding racism.

It became common for those who supported integration to consider themselves to be “Tolerant” and for those who were content with segregation to be “Intolerant.”

Here’s the question:  Do those who consider themselves “Tolerant” deserve the title when they fail to recognize and respect the beliefs and practices of those who believe racial segregation has its advantages?

You can ask the same question about gay rights.  There are those who condemn homosexuality on the grounds that the Bible stands four-square against it.  Indeed there are three books in the New Testament and one in the Old that not only condemn homosexuality but prescribe the death penalty for its practice.  How can anyone who worships the God of Abraham tolerate gays or anyone who supports them?

How indeed?  Maybe a look at the biblical record on adultery can add something to the disussion.  After all, adultery is not only broadly accepted by our contemporary culture, it appears to be outright admired when one looks at the lifestyles of the individuals we have elevated to celebrity status.

Adultery, defined as “Sexual relations with someone who is not your spouse” is condemned in no less than fourteen books of the Bible and is also deserving of the death penalty.  Why then should homosexuality engender so much more intolerance than adultery when it is condemned more than three times as often in the Bible?

Let’s not forget abortion.  Can we consdier ourselves to be “tolerlant” when we do not accept someone else’s belief about when life begins?  We can ask ourselves similar questions about affirmative action, man made global warming, unionism, diversity, environmentalism, free trade and so on.  Can we engage in civil discourse on these topics?

Can we claim to be tolerant when we refuse to recognize and respect the beliefs and practices of those with whom we disagree?  I think not, and we would do well to challenge ourselves on why we lack tolerance.

Often we place ourselves on an intellectual and moral pedestal and chalk the opinions of others up to stupidity, immorality, ignorance or just plain evil.  We celebrate our superiority by joining other like minded people in condemning  the unworthy with insults and name calling and other expressions of incivility in pubic demonstrations, social media and anywhere our voices can be heard, all the while claiming to be tolerant.

The history of Western culture is replete with examples of broad acceptance of ideas, beliefs, attitudes and ethnicity but in recent times we seem to have lost some of our ability to accept or tolerate differences.  Maybe we can reverse the trend by really listening to each other while trying to recognize and respect their opinions.

Doing so might help avoid future cliffs and sequesters and give us the wisdom to select better leaders.



Adam Grom January 20, 2015 10:09 pm

It seems that the concept of tolerance has devolved over the last few decades to be more a condescending act putting up with the views or mere existence of another person or segment of society. I think we really need to be shooting for acceptance. I feel that acceptance is a much more respectful act. One doesn’t need to agree in order to accept the rights of another human being. Once we accept each other as having value we might just begin to have meaningful conversation or debate over topics that will create positive change.

Everyone has worth regardless of socio-economic status, religion or sexuality. Everyone deserves acceptance. I’m pretty sure the only thing we really need to hold dear from the bible(s) or any other religious texts is the part that tells to build each other up rather than destroy and degrade. I overheard one of my students summarizing that thought by saying “it’s simple, just don’t be a douche”. I kind of like the simplicity of that statement.

By the way, nice writing Dad.


C. John Grom January 21, 2015 6:05 am

Well put Adam

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