Teach the true virtue of tolerance

 

The current political atmosphere in the USA is an embarrassing example of a failure to promote the virtue of tolerance.

For more than two decades, public education and mainstream media have emphasized and promoted a value identified as tolerance. Strangely, the form of tolerance promoted has even been required in many aspects of public life.

So why does society seem to be less and less tolerant? The bitter partisanship of political rivals is a steady reminder of how divided we are as a nation. Perhaps we could say this is just politics as usual, but the tone, posturing and polarization seem far worse.

It would be worth it to ask whether tolerance is a virtue one can or should mandate. Has society actually advanced a form of intolerance under the guise of tolerance? The short answer? Yes. 

When we feel a need to demand tolerance, it should alert us to a greater need to teach virtues that promote true tolerance. Virtues like respect, honor and neighbor love facilitate true tolerance whereas forced tolerance (whatever that is) actually threatens these qualities.

Of course, among people who are different, a shared commitment to the value of honoring and respecting each other necessitates robust and respectful conversations about the common good. But when will we learn that the tyranny of tolerance forecloses on those conversations.

The popular version of tolerance has left many feeling like they’re under some form of societal coercion — forcing them to affirm a politically approved set of morals and values. Many perceive this to be a threat to personal liberty.

In a society that cherishes freedom, people want to know who gets to set the morals that everyone must tolerate. Who defines what “we the people” must accept as lawful and good? Once a law is made against something, obviously tolerance no longer applies.The force of law mandates.

We need to teach people that tolerance does not mean agreement. It means treating others with respect when you disagree. Where disagreements are deeper, practicing tolerance becomes more virtuous. 

When told that we’re not permitted to disagree, we have coercion, not tolerance. The strange version of forced tolerance promoted over the last decades has encouraged people toward lifestyles of duplicity as they subscribe to one set of beliefs publicly and another privately. But is it surprising that this breeds resentment and sometimes violence? If you force a man against his will, he’s of the same persuasion still and he’s likely to get mad.

I realize that civility necessitates law making and law enforcement. I also realize that we cannot expect everyone to agree on the laws. But, in a free society, trouble is brewing when laws are made that unilaterally overturn the collective will of the people. To avoid this we must restrain judicial activism and improve at respectful and open dialogue over our differences. We must do a better job at teaching and modeling the virtues of respect, honor and neighbor love. These are the qualities that support the true virtue of tolerance.

Steve Cornell

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