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.

Inherent Fears.

Ever notice how many people are either scared of or grossed out by “bugs” and other “creepy crawlers”?  I mean, REALLY notice?  It’s almost overwhelming if you sit back and think about it.

Just the fact that these tiny (when compared to us) and relatively harmless organisms are CALLED “creepy crawlers” raises a lot of questions to me.  Horror movies and Halloween stores say it all.  The insects, the rats, the spiders, the snakes, the bats… overflow out of every corner.  And, without question, this is just accepted as normal.  It is so common that it seems like no one ever even bothers to ask “why”?  I bet most of the people reading this aren’t even beginning to ask “why”; they are rather mentally insulting *me* for doing so because it should be “obvious”.

When an insect or spider is seen, it is almost expected that at least one person will become extremely distressed by it and possibly even plead that someone else kill it for them.  Arachnophobia (the fear of spiders) is the number one most common phobia in the world.  It’s a cliché joke that a woman will jump up on a chair in hysterics if there is a “mouse in the house”.  Snakes are associated with the devil and a lot of people seem to genuinely believe that the entire species is “evil”.  When a human being is believed to be a bad person, we call them a “worm”, a “snake”, a “rat”, and so on.

It’s as if people forget that these are living creatures that play a vital role to our ecosystem, just like any other.   Instead they become “vermin”.  Many of them will even be inaccurately described as “parasites”.  And it’s not merely when these creatures are uninvited guests in our homes – it’s also when one is seen outside, on the television, in photographs, or even just talked about.

The extreme prejudice and hate is so strong that if someone comes along who does not share this viewpoint and say has a pet snake or collects bugs… people now think that person is “creepy”.  Does liking or even merely not hating a “creepy crawler” indicate there is something wrong with you?  Why?

Why is it “gross” if instead of squashing a bug with a newspaper, someone scooped it into their hands, carried it outside and let it go free?  It’s a fact that rats (as well as EVERY other animal) can carry disease… but what makes people think that domesticated PET rats do?  And why is it that someone can have a snake draped across their shoulders, content as can be, and people still expect that snake to lunge at them if they get too close?   And assurances that it’s not venomous or it doesn’t bite do nothing to make people more at ease in the company of the creatures.

I’ve asked myself hundreds of questions like these and tried to wrap my brain around it… since it’s not rational to be terrified of a creature that you are THOUSANDS of times stronger than… all I can conclude is that it’s biological.

See… 99% of insects are considered harmless to humans.  But that leaves 1% that is dangerous.  And aside from trial and error, there is really no way to tell the harmless ones from the dangerous ones.  Same thing with snakes, only 13% of them are venomous, but no living thing on earth just inherently knows which are and which aren’t… you have to learn it.

I speculate that the fear and unease that most people feel in the company of these creatures is actually a defense mechanism that has been genetically bread into human beings.  In the animal kingdom they call that “instinct”.

Of course, that theory does nothing to alleviate my annoyance when people give me a disgusted look and tell me I am “gross” for being one of those people who doesn’t share that viewpoint.  Instinct or not, I still expect human beings to activate the rational part of their brain when engaged in a conversation about the subject.