Ever think you understood a subject until you had to think critically about it, and then you find all these hidden perspectives and traps you didn’t realize were there. The subject of Tolerance did this for me.
I thought Tolerance was a spiritual skill because the term means holding a fair, objective, and permissive attitude towards those whose beliefs, opinions, practices, and approaches to life are different from our own. I do not think of myself as bigoted or dogmatic. I try to be liberal and impartial, and respect other’s beliefs, values and lifestyles. I strive to express the principles of universal love for all people and find joy in their happiness and well-being. Nature demonstrates tolerance as thousands of different species live together in a harmonious and systematic way. I try to go with the flow and be open to all.
Because the subject has been so hotly debated in this country since its founding, we know that many of us define tolerance in terms of social, cultural, ethnic, and religious contexts, and that today we would further define the term as precluding discrimination on any basis: race, nationality, gender, sexuality, disability, creed, color, age, political view, ideology, philosophical opinions, and just about any other reason you can think of.
Many of the religious views on Tolerance in some way follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. Yet Christendom has an extremely poor record of tolerance through the ages, contributing around a hundred million deaths to the historic total of eight hundred million that have died in religious wars. Not a good record from the institutions we would normally expect to set the tone for a tolerant society.
America now emphasizes tolerance in many ways. For instance, November 10th is ‘Mix It Up’ Day at thousands of U.S. schools. Students find ways to break out of their normal cliques and do some serious social border crossing, moving outside their normal social circles. When done in previous years, the results were positive and inspiring. We also have the current emphasis to be ‘politically correct’ in our words and writings.
A turning point in tolerance occurred in an era of great religious intolerance when John Locke in 1689 wrote ‘A Letter Concerning Toleration,’ a paper that ultimately had profound impact on the U.S. Constitution and America’s Bill of Rights. He argued for a separation of religion (church) and state, and an attitude of religious tolerance unless the institution sought to overthrow the state. (At the time, he declared that atheists and Catholics fell in this latter category and could be discriminated against.)
As I thought of the whole fabric of the physical and spiritual world, and the bridges I see between them, I realize there are many things I am intolerant of: cruelty, abuse, injustice, blind allegiance, slavery, and genocide to name a few. Some things just violate my fundamental values. I am intolerant of intolerance. Should I be tolerant of intolerance? There in lies the Paradox of Tolerance.
Now I am aware of the gray area. Tolerance is about ethical borders and how they reflect and surround your fundamental values, both physical and spiritual. Am I consistent about how I think about some of the major social issues? For instance, do I feel the military can use deadly force? Do I have a position on abortion? Is killing ever justified – in war … outside of war? Many people struggle with rationalizing their views on just these three complex ethical issues.
Tolerance is also about respect. In this regard, I may tolerate your views on some subject, accepting your ‘right’ to hold views contrary to mine, however, do I have to respect your views – that is hold them in high regard? Am I intolerant if I grant you the ‘right’ but don’t respect your opinions? Another gray zone!
Creating borders and believing your views deserve respect and others don’t puts you in a position of having to make judgments and apply your value set to the behavior of others. Yet, being open minded (tolerant) and nonjudgmental is crucial to critical thinking, learning and growth, in many cases, the same kind of spiritual growth we seek through our tolerance.
We’ve come full circle. Perhaps Tolerance leads us in this circle much as the Tao teaches us about judging and ambiguity:
Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty,
Only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil.
Being and nonbeing produce each other.
The difficult is born of the easy.
Long is defined by short, the high by the low.
Before and after go along with each other.
Perhaps Tolerance is only comprehended by knowing the intolerant, and open mindedness only by knowing the narrow-minded and prejudiced. Like Yin and Yang, we must have both sides present, forever living in a comfortable tension. The Tao goes on in the above verse (#2), to suggest a unity in a universe that is not judgmental. This brings us into metaphysical world, where the paradoxes such as tolerance and intolerance, or beauty and ugliness, disappear into a unity with source energy.
So, be Tolerant. Pick your boundaries carefully; place your respect with discrimination; and constantly test whether you have left the door open to growth and learning. Know that in your connection to source energy you can be tolerant without being judgmental, and achieve unity in a paradoxical universe.
This website is to stimulate your spiritual thinking in the hope that it will contribute to your spiritual growth. The author invites your comments and critiques by reply e-mail to email@example.com.
© 2009 Robert Reck. All Rights Reserved. Article may be quotes and cited in other websites or documents with full reference.