Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tolerance: is it realistic?

I left class on Friday feeling a bit displeased after the subject of tolerance was brought up. It seems that the majority of the class believes that America is a tolerant country. Yet, other countries are not. But is it realistic? Is America really a tolerant country? If so, then why are there so many issues, such as abortion, being argued in the political world? If we are tolerant, why can’t the pro-life group continue to support those who are pro-life and agree to the pro-choice group continue with their agenda? Why must illegalizing abortion be such an issue? What about missionaries going to different countries trying to implement Christianity on others? Is that being tolerant?

I disagree with the notion that America is as tolerant as many seem to think. I sense that tolerance only work when it is towards ones self-interest. It is only easy to be tolerant if an issue does not directly affect that person, or if it is an issue that that person is apathetic about. Once a person cares about a subject matter, that person loyalty to his/her argument will cause biased towards that certain view and he/she will find it hard to tolerate different viewpoints. Also, if a person is around people who have similar thoughts on one subject, it is easier to say that he/she is tolerant of the subject because that person position has not been tested nor directly confronted with opposing outlook. For example, many classes at Rhodes have very specific topics. Some of these topics might cause some controversy. However, if a class has only similar groups of student, and no one who disagree with the mass majority, it is hard to decide whether the class is being tolerant of the idea or simply because the idea has not been tested.

We have been taught to be tolerant, but we have also been taught to stand up for our beliefs. But aren’t those two ideas conflicting? I imagine these two are clashing point of views, and it seems that standing up for what you believe in usually always wins. When an idea isn’t complementing one’s self-interest, it is easy to deviate from the “tolerance” stand point. To stand up for ones beliefs and try to prove a point or persuade the other person to believe in the same views seems to be done more.

Saying that you are tolerant is almost as similar to being what Dr. Johnson often called a “lazy relativist”. A lazy relativist is a person that thinks that nothing is absolute and everything is right, therefore there’s no absolute truth, in turn saying that everyone can have their perspective and there is no need for arguments. Being tolerant means you have to respect other people’s ideas and that they can have their perspective and you can have yours without going into a fight. I feel that these two ideas are quite similar. Tolerance is just a nicer euphemism.

The idea of tolerance is a bit na├»ve in my opinion. It does seem like a great concept. However, to successfully put your beliefs aside and truly tolerate someone else’s without being somewhat judgmental is awfully difficult. I realized not all situations are black and white, however, after class on Friday, I felt like everyone made America sound like such a tolerant country, and I just wanted to point out, maybe, a different point of view.


lynn s said...

I think what everyone was trying to get at in class was that the United States is more tolerant than other countries, not that it was a perfect example of being a tolerant country. My sister did SYA in Spain and from talking to her, I can say that compared to Spain, the United States is more tolerant in terms of race and gender issues.

And the reason why we have so many issues in our country is because we are so diverse unlike so many other countries. So, there are going to be more conflicts, but that does not mean we are not tolerant. Do you see pro-life people killing pro-choice people or vice versa. Or Catholics killing Protestants?

You also mentioned that Christian missionaries were not tolerant people, since they went to other countries to spread the Word of God. If they were not tolerant, they would impose their religion on other people like when the conquistadors came to Central and South America. But they don't; they just preach and then it is up to the people to decide if they (the people) want to believe. Talking about your beliefs does not mean you are not tolerant.

Ai said...

I completely agree with you. However, i feel that the basic definition of tolerance is not forcing any beliefs in any forms or way, small or large.
Also, i feel that a lot of people are simply using the word to be politically neutral. Therefore giving the word less value.

leecbryant said...

I agree with you Ai. There are plenty of people in the Unites States that are 100% intolerant of others’ opinions. Your examples of abortion and religion are prevalent in today's society, with race being another obvious example. I live in a small, predominately white rural area and race is a huge issue in the surrounding suburbs. People slap huge stickers of the Confederate flag on their bumpers, knowing what it represents and the connotations around it, and openly promote racism. These people clearly are not being tolerant. And Knoxville suburbs are not the only places these incidents still happen.

However, I also see the class’s point of view that, as a whole, Americans are at least taught to be more tolerant than citizens in other countries. I think Lynn’s comment about being diverse plays a huge part in our tolerance.

But I think the main issue is the difference between tolerating and understanding. These two words don’t equate to the same thing. Toleration, boiled down, is an objective view of someone’s beliefs. Understanding is a subjective, more empathetic view. You can learn to tolerate what another person believes by accepting them for their difference while still disagreeing with them; but to understand you have to put aside what you believe and see from the other person’s perspective. Truly understanding is where the majority of humans, in general, fall short. We are so focused on what we believe, as you said Ai, that genuine understanding of another’s opinion is hard unless you share that opinion yourself.

Courtney Martin said...

I have to agree with you as well Ai. In a way, it was discouraging to hear that we often view our country as being tolerant. As Lee was saying, we get so caught up in our own opinions that any other perspective is not absorbed, just tolerated which reveals a sad point of our society.

To tolerate someone's analysis or personality is almost viewed as an insult and a sign of superficial superiority. As the old saying goes, two heads are always better than one, so shouldn't we take advantage of what we can learn from others or other countries. Shouldn't we challenge them in ways that we can both benefit, instead of living in a mutual tolerance? I believe that with toleration, a country that is stagnant to those that may have controversy but are able to work through them.