The current political atmosphere in the USA is an embarrassing example of a failure to promote the virtue of tolerance.
For 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.
Is tolerance actually a virtue one can mandate? What we have witnessed is more like a form of intolerance under the guise of tolerance.
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) could 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 what can be agreed upon as the common good. The current tyranny of coerced tolerance, however, forecloses on such 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 – a cherished value in America.
In a society that places a premium on 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 acceptance.
We need to teach people that tolerance does not mean agreement. It means treating others with respect when you disagree. Practicing tolerance becomes even more virtuous where disagreements are deeper.
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. Is it surprising that this breeds resentment? 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, expose politically controlled media, and encourage respectful and open dialogue over our differences.
We must do a better job teaching and modeling virtues of respect, honor and neighbor love. These are qualities that support the true virtue of tolerance.