Just how tolerant should I try to be?

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tolerantThe British live in a curiously tolerant country – one which allows a range of values, views about life, and philosophical and political belief. But one thing for which people are not tolerant is intolerance! For example an intolerant attitude towards diversity is associated in the public mind with being discriminatory, moralistic and rejecting.

And so to criticise the sex industry runs the risk of condemning prostitutes. To complain about levels of immigration is to be thought of as racist. To argue against the introduction of gay marriage is seen as homophobia.

Judgmental attitude

In one sense this idea of being tolerant is not new. Jesus Christ could be said to have exemplified it by spending time with those whose lifestyles were outside the accepted morality of his day, the tax collectors, and so on. His tolerant conduct illustrates the idea of accepting others for what they are rather than acting with social prejudice.

‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged.’ (Matt 7:1)

But ‘turning the other cheek’ and treating people who offend our values and susceptibilities with forbearance and indulgence sometimes feels a step too far. For example the value of peace and quiet in one’s neighbourhood may suit some but others may prefer a livelier scene with loud music blaring from the local pub or party goers having a good time in the street.

Limits to being tolerant

Are there no limits to being tolerant? When we stop and reflect then of course we realise there must be limits if society is to hold together. If the police in a neighbourhood tolerated robbery and violence without any attempt to arrest criminals, then chaos would ensue. Any political authority tolerating such a state of affairs would stand accused of a complete lack of compassion for the plight of innocent victims.

However there are numerous occasions when no law is broken yet those with views about what is right and wrong feel that being tolerant can merge into permissiveness or naivety. Some people want to stand up for what they feel is right but can be accused of intolerance when they do so.

How tolerant should we be of unsolicited telephone calls from call centres trying to sell unwanted things, of cyclists riding on busy pavements endangering parents with small children, of intimidating groups of youths hanging around street corners, of a sports crowd using foul language in the presence of children, or of an old driver slowly driving along a single lane road holding up a long line of traffic.

Voicing criticism

I would suggest it is possible to stand up for what one believes by voicing criticism provided this is done in a social skilled manner. Knowing how to differentiate between the behaviour one wants to complain about and the person who is giving offence is part of the answer. It is a real challenge is to try to recognize one’s unsympathetic and over-critical mindset and learn to tolerate people who anger you by disliking what they do rather than the people themselves.

But how is criticism expressed? When someone gets on their high horse their criticism sounds like they are putting down the other person. This is the mark of an intolerant attitude. Some of us are better than others in voicing criticism using wit and good humour without appearing to dominate.

Charitable attitude

I believe the core of an intolerant attitude is an uncharitable attitude. This can be recognised as a narrow mind and unsympathetic feeling. It is shown by jumping to conclusions about someone because of a desire to find fault: not bothering to look for mitigating circumstances that could partly excuse someone’s actions: and failing to look for the good rather than the bad in the person about whom you are prejudiced.

There probably is not much more likely to cause intolerant anger than matters of religious belief. Witness the hatred and violence of two branches of Christianity in 17th century England. And so I was delighted when holidaying in Monmouthshire recently to came across a beautiful small Moravian chapel near Tintern Abbey which had a notice saying

“In things essential – unity,
In non-essentials – liberty
In all things — charity”

It is charitable to remember that what appears to be right to you may be seen differently by others. And that by allowing others to do things of which you disapprove doesn’t mean you are saying they are acting in line with what you want and think is right.

I would ike to say a charitable attitude is no use if exercised unwisely. What behaviour in others to tolerate depends on one’s good sense as well as one’s charitable attitude. If this is true then don’t give a drunk money to spend on booze: don’t tolerate abusive behaviour from a family member: don’t allow the children to manipulate you.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-LacyAuthor of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

 

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Posted on9th August 2012CategoriesEthics, Interpersonal EthicsTags, , , , ,, , , , ,, , , , ,  Leave a comment

10 thoughts on “Just how tolerant should I try to be?

  1. This is certainly a complicated country on that front. But step back a bit and Google the etymology of the word tolerance. It was thought of as a bad thing in the 16th century – partly because they considered that God’s judgement would somehow be collective or parish based. It was seen as a negative thing – which is interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Simon is on the right track. Namely, defining what you mean by “tolerance?” Does it mean being at peace with sinners as Jesus was? That’s good. Does it mean accepting their sin? That’s bad. Jesus told the prostitute to sin no more. I’ll be civil with Muslims, Hindus, LGBT, etc. I will not approve of their beliefs or behavior, and I’ll be kind about it, letting my words show concern for their eternal well-being.

    The same goes for being judgmental; how do you define it? I wrote an article on it in 2014: https://jeffreyhking.wordpress.com/2014/07/27/here-come-da-judge/

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    • ARE WE JUDGED BY GOD?

      The Lord by His life on earth taught us how to prepare for heaven. He showed us how to cooperate with Him to do the work of changing our character from one that is selfish, self centered, inconsiderate and fearful (living in a hellish way) to one that is kind, giving, generous and confident in the Lord (living in a heavenly way). This is a process and it takes time – a lifetime. As we make choices to turn away from selfish and merely worldly gratification and in turn make choices that are based on the truth, and inspired by generosity and kindness, we develop a desire or will for what is good. It is that will or dominant love within us that determines our place after the death of this body. If we primarily love what is kind, good, and true we will find our happiness in heaven where we can continue to live this way with others of a like mind and heart. If we primarily love what is selfish, hateful and deceitful we will actually find heaven an uncomfortable place, and instead find a place in hell where we can continue to live this way with others of like mind and heart. We therefore essentially judge ourselves – or choose our own eternity.

      “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” (John 12:46-48)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Personally I am not judging anyone. But I do maintain and defend a right to think differently from most people / all people – including people on WordPress. I don’t think anyone is going to this Hell / Sheol place BTW

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