Cultural Tolerance – Part 3: HOW we ought to tolerate

Everyone is calling for ‘tolerance’ these days.  But, really deep down, what do we mean?

It seems to me that there are several different types of ‘tolerance’, and they don’t all mean the same thing.  There is a whole spectrum of ‘tolerance’!  Let me highlight the ‘good extreme’ and the ‘bad extreme’, with the understanding that most of the time ‘tolerance’ – as practiced in our society –  falls somewhere in between the two.  I just hope we’ll try to aim towards the ‘good’ end of the spectrum…  



The ‘GOOD tolerance’ 

I suspect that is what most of us mean when we say ‘tolerance’.  This form is the ‘respectful tolerance’, and it requires that both sides ‘acknowledge the differences’ and then CHOOSE to respect the choices the others make.


That is by no means easy.  All sides (this is never as easy as just two or three sides) have to take the time and effort to actually educate themselves on other peoples’ views and beliefs, then consider each others’ positions objectively, then judge ‘the other sides’ to be worthy of respect….and that is not always possible.  For, how can one truly respect a view or belief which may be contrary to one’s core values?


The answer, of course, is with an utmost exercise of self-control and intellectual detachment…but remember, this is one of the extremes, an ideal we ought to aspire to live up to.



The ‘BAD tolerance’ 

This tolerance is not nice tolerance at all.  It is the dismissive kind:  ‘oh, let them do their thing, we could never hope to civilize them’ kind of tolerance…  ‘Oh, why would we want to bring democracy there, these people are just too backward – they could never understand equality.’  ‘Their women don’t know any different, so why give them ideas of what we live like – they’re just too tribal to change.’  You know, this is the ‘they could NEVER be equal to US’ tolerance….which permeates the separatist and racist underbellies of every society.


Not only does it dismiss the side ‘to be tolerated’, it treats people as unworthy of the expectations that one has of the members of a civilized society….  It inevitably leads to the alienation and isolation of the ‘tolerated’ side, socially and eventually economically, forcing them to become second class citizens.  It is dispicable!

This position is difficult to eradicate for two major reasons:  one, it is often deeply held, because it makes the person holding such views feel somehow ‘superior’ and way more ‘special’;  it is also often really hard to recognize, because it is so adept at masking itself…as real, proper, respectful tolerance!

What is even worse is that among those who practice this ‘patronizing tolerance’, there are often despicable busybodies who consider their actions to be noble, a showcase of how tolerant we all ‘ought to’ be, wrapping themselves in ‘the cloak of righteousness’.  These busybodies wreak havoc in many ways. 

One of the most destructive is by appointing themselves the ‘guardians’ of those ‘to be tolerated’.  In this role, they look for ways in which the ‘mainstream culture’ differs from the original culture of the unfortunates whom they’ve decided to ‘shield’, and demands exemptions for them.  This may be from sport-team rules and other minor things to cultural practices, or even to exempt them from some actual laws of the land.  Of course, this may please some of the newest arrivals (or those within the immigrant community who wish to control them), but overall, it denies the newly arrived immigrants the right and the very ABILITY to integrate, bullying them into perpetuating the very cultural practices they are trying to escape from by coming here….

Another extremely destructive thing these ‘busybodies’ do is to bully the mainstream culture into tolerating all kind of excesses perpetrated by some people in the ‘target minority’, into tolerating behaviours unacceptable by our laws and our cultural standards.  This, of course, is done in the name of ‘educating us all’ to the ‘sensitivities’ we must be mindful of when we tolerate these excesses and illegal behaviours….

How could this unwelcome and obstructive meddling do anything but breed resentment on all sides?  How could we all be blind to it?  How could we allow ourselves to be duped and bullied by these busybodies?

It would be naïve to think that we can ever fully get rid of the ‘bad tolerance’…it’s part of our human nature.  But, could we not try to minimize it?  Could we not try to aspire to actually respect each other?  Could we not hope to reach higher on the ‘kind of tolerance’ spectrum?

Gosh, I hope I’m not too naïve for hoping we can!