Sometimes, Marge expresses some very disagreeable opinions. Some of those opinions are blatantly xenophobic. I wonder if she sometimes voices them to get a rise out of me. I’m baffled by her words because she is married to a moderate friend of mine, Charley. In the interest of keeping the peace, I don’t respond to Marge’s proclamations because, first, she emotionally shuts down and second, she’s married to a friend. In a way, I just have to tolerate her even though she confuses me and I have no clue as to why she thinks as she does. I grudgingly tolerate Marge at the most primal level.
A conundrum that challenges me in this day and age is how intolerant I can be about intolerance. On its surface, intolerance about intolerance seems hypocritical. Digging a little deeper, though, this attitude is more nuanced than black and white thinking. It is related to the statement, “I may strongly disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This attitude enables some peaceful coexistence with Marge whenever she says something odious.
There are limits to the toleration of intolerance. There might be Nazis marching in the streets–we carefully respect their First Amendment rights to free speech and to peaceably assemble. A line is crossed when their voices incite violence and their actions cause harm or death. Such endangerment of public safety and well-being is intolerable.
“Tolerance, like any aspect of peace, is forever a work in progress, never completed, and, if we’re as intelligent as we like to think we are, never abandoned.”–science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler
Tolerance is a virtue that is not automatic. Tolerance requires mindful attention and flexibility. Tolerance implies lots of grey area thinking. Even though a person might have an ah-ha moment that causes her to see the wisdom of tolerance, that does not mean from that moment on, she will be or remain tolerant of differences to her world-view. Tolerance is both a choice and a habit. It’s a choice that is vulnerable to inauspicious circumstances.
Open-minded tolerance requires the desire to understand other people and other world views as objectively as possible. This openness to understand other people’s points of view, the openness to discussion and argument, and the ability to examine self-doubt are positive, enlightening practices. However, we must also recognize that there are people who desire to delude us. It’s wise to retain healthy skepticism because there are some individuals who knowingly, needlessly perpetrate human conflict and suffering.