As I traveled to visit family this Christmas, I had the opportunity to read several papers in different states, and to think at length about tolerance and its benefits and problems. Tolerance comes into play whenever different people live together. Think of your family, and think about the peculiar traits each person in your family exhibits. Some are tolerated while others are not. This is the nature of tolerance. It's not an absolute, but it is necessary for people to live together.
What issues in our society require a determination of tolerance? I'll start with a seemingly simple one.
Have a Merry Christmas!
How many of you were offended? How many of you welcomed this wish? I've struggled with this a lot as I live and work with people of different beliefs, as many of us do. When I say, "Have a Merry Christmas," I'm actually expressing a genuine wish from my heart to others based upon my beliefs. I'm not saying, "Adopt my beliefs or die!" This means I'm okay with others wishing me whatever is genuine for them. I do not interpret their expression as commanding me to embrace their belief, but about the fact they are willing to share with me something very meaningful to them.
Of course, no guarantee exists people will simply share what is meaningful to them. Some are trying to force beliefs upon others, but this too may require tolerance. What if someone is commanding me to embrace their belief? I am free to choose to accept this or not, but now I possibly may feel uncomfortable. Perhaps the person should say "Happy Holidays" in order to remove any sense of commandment, but I prefer others say what is meaningful to them and remove the sense of commandment. Wishful thinking, I know, but this is the form of tolerance I like in this situation. Let me know what you feel, but don't make me feel as you do. This requires tolerance from both of us.
Moving onto a more complex tolerance issue, what should be the separation of church and state? What's wrong with the Ten Commandments taking center stage in a public space? If the community believes in the Judeo-Christian tradition, shouldn't the community represent itself publicly? I believe the community should publicly state religious beliefs, but within privately controlled spaces such as the front yard of a home. Even though I believe in the Ten Commandments, I am unwilling to have my government, at any level (local, state, or federal), endorse a particular religious belief. I believe this because I don't want some religious belief contrary to mine to have the weight of government behind it; therefore, I need to tolerate the idea that in order to protect my religious beliefs I cannot have my government endorse them. By not endorsing any particular religious belief, our government protects all of our religious beliefs. Yes, I know we have many religious sayings in government issued or endorsed items (e.g. "In God We Trust" on the back of the dollar bill, or "under God" in The Pledge of Allegiance), and these may need to be removed only to ensure that our government continues to protect the religious belief of trusting God. Seems strange, I know, but what if Judge Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court had put the tenets of some other religious heritage in the court building? Would the same groups come to his defense, or would they use separation of church and state to remove his chosen tenets?
When dealing with tolerance, examining both sides of an issue and thinking them through to their conclusion helps with deciding on which side of the tolerance issue we will reside. At the very least, considering both sides of an issue will make us more tolerant of the other.Posted by breeves at January 1, 2004 4:11 PM