Be My Guest: Redefining Tolerance

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 My handsome, bro, Joe.



The following guest post comes from my brother, Joseph Flemming. Enjoy!

The other day I was watching CBS “This Morning” and the special guest was Pastor Rick Warren. At first I wasn’t really paying attention, he was celebrating the tenth anniversary of his seminal book “The Purpose Driven Life”, a book which I thumbed through at a friend’s suggestion but never really got into. So folding the clothes, I continued to breeze in and out of what was happening on screen until I noticed that Charlie Rose was starting to press Warren on the subject of gay marriage. Rose was very insistent on getting a clear answer from Warren, presumably to make Warren state a hard line definitive viewpoint on the matter. He brushed aside Warrens initial attempts at a non-committal open answer. This was live and Rose wanted to nail Warren to a view. At this point, Warren gave this reply:

“The problem is that ‘tolerant’ has changed its meaning. It used to mean ‘I may disagree with you completely, but I will treat you with respect. Today, tolerant means – ‘you must approve of everything I do.’ There’s a difference between tolerance and approval. Jesus accepted everyone no matter who they were. He doesn’t approve of everything I do, or you do, or anybody else does either. You can be accepting without being approving.”

I muted the TV and sat there thinking about this for a little while. After a year of exhaustive election political coverage from the news, from my friends’ Facebook news feeds, and even the barista at Starbucks, I had become numb with most conversations. It wasn’t that people were talking about the election, or passionately believing in their particular viewpoint, it was because it seemed like there wasn’t any substantive dialogue going on. People entrenched in their viewpoint would rattle off whatever latest soundbites they heard on the evening news, and take it as their personal view with little to back it up. Of course this was apparent on both sides, liberal and conservative friends engaged in this behavior just the same.

I had tried to spur conversations with various people but they would just repeat what they posted, or get mad at me for bringing up a different viewpoint. It was then that I realized that civility had left the building. Disenfranchised, I stopped getting into debates with friends, visited Facebook less (except to upload pictures of the kids) and feared for the state of not only politics, but conversations as a whole. Perhaps the Western art of the dialectic was lost. After finishing the laundry I looked up Webster’s definition of tolerant:
a : sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own
b : the act of allowing something : toleration

In my view, I think that Pastor Warren might be on to something here. In modern societies zeal for political correctness, perhaps some have tried to expand the meaning of tolerance. I believe the initial want was to try to make things as inclusive as possible. Of course, it is a lot easier to redefine what tolerance means than to actually teach tolerance itself. Modifying people’s behavior at the, core belief layer is a lot harder than socially engineering perceived biases on a cultural scale. Unfortunately in doing so, I believe that it has created a paradoxical effect. It seems that if people disagree with the general consensus, that they are quickly labeled intolerant and backwards by the very people pushing for tolerance. gives this definition of tolerant:

1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.

According to that definition, tolerance calls for an objective and fair attitude. I believe that we as a society are on the verge of losing what has made this country great. The ability to engage in thought provoking conversations, to broker deals that are made from compromises. To embrace new or better ideas that comes from the synthesis of divergent viewpoints. To do this through a time honored tradition of a dialectic, to respect our differences. We might not agree with our neighbors on a great many things, but if we narrowly stay within the confines of our own beliefs no new knowledge is gained. For those who use tolerance as a shield to deflect or dismiss the criticism, beliefs, or views of those they oppose must come to terms that it is themselves who are being truly intolerant of an opposing view.

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