One of the things that is so great about America is our diversity. Like the states who form the United States of America, the American people have different cultural backgrounds but come together united. That can cause some problems, because we so easily slip into a mentality that says, “Different = Wrong.” How do we learn to get along and respect others who are so different from us?
Tolerance… it’s practically the religion of today. Unfortunately, what often gets called “tolerance” is anything but. It’s become a word that gets thrown around but never defined.
What Tolerance Is Not
Tolerance doesn’t overlook differences. It’s not tolerant to tell people, “You think you disagree, but you really don’t.” Telling Christians and Muslims and Buddhists they all believe the same thing and worship the same God isn’t tolerance, it’s disrespecting their religious beliefs.
When tolerance becomes intolerant of differences, we are not practicing tolerance… we’re practicing uniformity. Doing that is like cutting down all the trees so they get the same amount of sunlight.
What Tolerance Is
Tolerance is three things: “respect despite disagreement.”
Respect: Tolerance chooses to show respect, not passive-aggressive agreement to put up with each other. This means we need to work to understand and appreciate one another. Listen. Ask question. Try to see the world from their perspective, refusing to embrace stereotypes we hear about in the news.
Despite: This means we don’t ignore our disagreements, and we continue to disagree because we think we’re right. How can racial, sexual, and religious tolerance be promoted if we aren’t willing to enter into difficult conversations, even if it means we might “say the wrong thing” or accidentally hurt someone else’s feelings. In an atmosphere of tolerance, when we’re on the receiving end of those missteps, we need to gently correct one another while still trying to hear what the other is attempting to say.
Disagreement: At the end of the day, we still may not agree… but we should understand each other’s perspectives better than we did at the beginning of the conversation. Hopefully, I have grown in respect for you and you have grown in your respect for me. The disagreement remains, but because we are committed to tolerance we are also committed to respecting one another.
I’d love to hear from you readers what advice you have for promoting a deeper tolerance.
If we point fingers, let’s point fingers at ourselves before we start pointing the finger at anyone else, ok?