Bruce's Blog


7 Deadly Attitudes: Part 6

March 4th, 2013

Deadly Intolerance

Intolerance is a disability--the inability to co-exist with differences. Whether the difference is skin color, religion, politics or other philosophical differences, nationalism or ideas of right and wrong most things are not so huge that we need wars or riots to decide what one route everybody must take.

Intolerance spawns a dull world

What a dull world it would be if everybody thought like me! What if no one challenged our thinking with theirs? How would we grow or learn or thrive?

Our world of constant change is made possible only by people who think differently from the herd. If we cannot tolerate new ideas and new people to hatch them, where does that leave progress?

Wars grow from fear

Where do wars come from? Behavior that can no longer be tolerated? People who fear people are the most volatile people in the world. When we are insecure about our worth or our safety in the world, we eventually cannot tolerate those who are different from us. Immigrants to this country formerly famed for its welcome to those "yearning to breathe free" strike fear in the hearts of many "true Americans". Fear that the current majority might become the minority paralyzes empathy for those who seek a better life for themselves and their children. Economic terror strikes people who would not be likely to lose their jobs to newly arrived people from other nations. Fear leads to unhealthy reactions. Militias form, often arming the angry and undermining peaceful approaches to very real challenges.

Intolerance murders diversity

What about variety? Intolerance murders diversity. If we cannot tolerate people who are different from us, if we bully and assassinate characters and demonize everyone who is different from us, where is the dialog, the conversation, the civil disagreement that encourages everyone to profit from the wisdom, experience and ideas of others? If skin color, nationality, religion or economic status determines our right to speak and to influence where is diversity to root?

Intolerance certainly deserves to be high on the list of seven attitudes that threaten our planet.

A cure for intolerance

Intolerance is diluted and ultimately defeated by coming to know people--real people--who are different from us. Categories are easy to hate. Stereotypes do not lend themselves to discourse. Real people are different.

At a dinner event recently I was seated beside a man who spoke from experience about some people whose behavior was heinous by any standards. His final remark was, "...but I found out they were just human." Part of our intolerance may come from our own fear that by virtue of our humanity we are related to those whom we find intolerable, and we are.

Some things should not be tolerated

There are some things that must not be tolerated--some behaviors that are so damaging that we must do what we can to eliminate them.  Genocide, rape, abuse, murder...these things must be stopped at any cost to us. Behavior that damages other people is unacceptable. Shade of complexion, faith or the absence of it, adherence to some social conventions and a host of other prejudices do not fall into this category.

How do we know we are right?

Intolerance always assumes that it is right and everything and everyone differing from it are wrong. Except from some of the universally accepted markers above, how do we know we are right? Does it even follow that if we are right, everyone else is wrong? Can there be more than one right? Can we stretch ourselves enough to let others have a right to their "right"?

Can we determine that in ourselves we will not tolerate intolerance in matters that are up for debate?

What ways have you found to prevent intolerance from spoiling relationships?


#1 Linda Looney said:

To me, tolerance is accepting of the differences in human beings, and therefore by that definition, intolerance is not accepting any differences in our fellow human beings. Of course, as noted, certain actions and behaviors can never be tolerated, acceptable and must be stopped at all costs. But I am referring to everyday, human differences of skin tone, religion, sexual orientation, or opinions of most kinds. I have encountered in the last couple days various degrees of intolerances to other ethnic groups which puzzled me. I believe that God made us all different so as not to be too self centered. To accept differences in people, I think we must learn about them and then there is no fear left. What makes you different then me? What does that difference makes me afraid or anxious? Why? When we get to know others, we find out they are, indeed, "just folk" who pretty much want the same things that I do out of life. Learning new things about others enriches us as individuals as well as our communities. God made rainbows, as it says in our scriptures, so God loves differences -if colors, of weather, and of people. We should do nothing less.

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