Just how tolerant should I try to be?

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tolerantThe British live in a curiously tolerant country ā€“ 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 argueĀ 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.

ā€˜Do not judge, or you too will be judged.ā€™ (Matt 7:1)

But ā€˜turning the other cheekā€™ 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 oneā€™s neighbourhood may suit some but others may prefer a livelier scene with loud music blaring from theĀ 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 oneā€™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 someoneā€™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 ofĀ 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

ā€œIn things essential ā€“ unity,
In non-essentials ā€“ liberty
In all things ā€” charityā€

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 youĀ disapprove doesnā€™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 oneā€™s good sense as well as oneā€™sĀ charitable attitude. If this is true then donā€™t give a drunk money to spend on booze: donā€™t tolerate abusive behaviour from a family member: donā€™t allow theĀ children to manipulate you.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-LacyAuthor ofĀ  Heart, Head & HandsĀ  Swedenborgā€™s perspective on emotional problems

 

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