A Lesson in Tolerance

I’ve spent some time hating.  I’ve spent some time complaining.  And I’ve spent some time questioning.  I’ve searched my soul… and something unexpected occurred to me.  Something I would like to share with the world.  Or at least as much of it as I have the power to reach.

I’m going to break down some seemingly common misconceptions about what it means to be tolerant… and what it means to be intolerant.  I’m going to do this because I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe… there are people who genuinely don’t understand the difference.  That at least some of this swirling hatred might be coming out of a simple misunderstanding.

I’d like to paint a picture for you in a way that I hope will be easy to understand and follow.  To accomplish this, I’m going to use an example of a situation that is widely considered a “hot button” subject – a situation that I expect everyone to have some level of familiarity with.

Imagine a religious person who believes that homosexuality is morally wrong.  We’ve probably all known someone who feels this way.  You might even be one of them.  But your personal views on the matter aren’t what’s important in this analogy.  What I have to say applies to all sides of the fence.

First I’d like to ask you: What opinion have you formed of our example religious person?  Do you think they are intolerant?  Closed-minded?  Homophobic?  Hateful?

Would it surprise you if I were to say that it’s not intolerant to believe homosexuality is morally wrong?  Because, despite popular opinion – it’s NOT intolerant to believe homosexuality is morally wrong.  I’m going to repeat that.  It’s not intolerant to believe homosexuality is morally wrong.  It truly isn’t.  At least not on the face of it.

Please understand that I am not saying I personally believe that homosexuality is morally wrong – because nothing could be further from the truth.  I am merely saying that a person having that belief alone is not sufficient to label them as intolerant.  So, before you write me off as being intolerant and homophobic – please allow me to explain WHY.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, tolerance is defined as “willingness to accept behavior and beliefs that are different from your own, even if you disagree or disapprove of them.”

What that basically means is, you can disagree with and even DISAPPROVE of a person’s behavior or beliefs and still be tolerant.  Because it’s not one’s personal feelings on the matter that determines their tolerance; but rather their ACTIONS towards the person they disagree with.

So, let’s take this information back to our example.  If the religious person in question accepts and respects a person who is homosexual, even though it goes against their personal morals and beliefs (e.g. “love the sinner, hate the sin”), then that person IS tolerant.  They are THE VERY DEFINITION of tolerant.

Now, if our example religious person refuses to accept and respect people solely for their sexuality, that is an entirely different scenario.  In that instance, they ARE intolerant.  Possibly even hateful.

But here’s where it REALLY gets interesting.  Did you judge our example religious person without taking the time to get to know them?  Did you write them off solely for their beliefs about homosexuality?  Do you refuse to accept and respect them because of those beliefs?  Maybe even hate them over it?

Would it surprise you if I were to say that anyone who answered “yes” to those questions is intolerant?  Because, anyone who answered yes to those questions IS intolerant.  I’m going to repeat that.  Anyone who hates a person, solely because they believe homosexuality is wrong, is intolerant. They are THE VERY DEFINITION of intolerant.  (Which, according to the Cambridge Dictionary is defined as “refusing to accept ideas, beliefs, or behavior that are different from our own.”)

If you alienate or treat a person disrespectfully because you disagree with their views and opinions, there is no “pass” that will magically make your behavior become tolerant.  Claiming that your actions aren’t intolerant because “they” are intolerant is NOT a valid argument.  Trying to excuse your behavior will likely only make you MORE intolerant.  It can turn into a vicious cycle if you let it.

That doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to alienate or treat a person disrespectfully when you disagree with their views and opinions.  You have a right to your opinion even when it is intolerant, hateful, or disrespectful..  As does everyone else, no matter how much you disagree with them!  As long as you do not HARM the person you hate, then you have the right to hate them for any reason.  But keep in mind, they have just as much right to hate YOU!

So, ask yourself what kind of person you want to be.  Do you want to be tolerant?  Or do you want to be intolerant?  Do you want to be accepting of people with different backgrounds and beliefs?  Or do you want to be closed-minded?

If you think it’s ok to hate and lash out at people whose views you have deemed intolerant, you may want to give yourself a hard look in the mirror.