Can We Tolerate Tolerance?
Have you ever been in the ironic position where someone accused of lacking tolerance and in the process turned intolerant toward you? Sadly, such occasions are commonplace nowadays. Just think of the riots that swept America post election, when people rampaged and pillaged in the name of tolerance.

Several weeks ago, I was a visitor in a synagogue one morning, when a total stranger disagreed with something I said and started to shout at me. His primary accusation was that I am not open to other points of view. He doesn’t know me at all, but was convinced he knew about my lack of openness. I tried to engage him and he refused. I tried to introduce myself, but he refused. I tried to shake his hand, but once again, he refused.

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I had to shake my head at the irony of encountering intolerance from one who demands openness to other points of view. Tolerance has become a one-way street. If I believe strongly in something, you should be tolerant of my view, but don’t ask me to tolerate yours.



I believe that this is rooted in a basic misconception of tolerance. Tolerance does not mean that we must agree with divergent points of view. Tolerance doesn’t even mean that we must consider all points of view as potentially correct. Tolerance means that we disagree with the idea, not with the person.

Tolerance and Conviction
If tolerance means that all ideas are correct, then essentially no idea is correct. If tolerance means that all ideas are correct, then conviction is not possible. Moral conviction becomes misconstrued for intolerance. Moral conviction means that we hold fast to our views in the belief that they are correct. Moral conviction doesn’t mean that we think we are right, but concede that we may be wrong. That is an opinion. That is not conviction.

If conviction is intolerant, and tolerance is the theme of our generation, then there is no room for moral conviction in our times. And that is a ridiculous notion. That is an inaccurate portrayal of tolerance. In fact, it isn’t true. If all champions of tolerance would truly believe that all points of view are correct, then it would include the point of view that discounts theirs. But it rarely does.

It is true that all ideas and all points of view have some truth to them. If they didn’t have a kernel of truth, they would not exist. But just because they have a kernel of truth, doesn’t make them correct. It depends on how the true kernel is translated; how people draft the kernel to their position.

I dear say that we can be tolerant and believe in the rectitude of our position to the exclusion of all others. It is intolerant to deny the kernel of truth in all positions and it is intolerant to disagree with the person who holds the position that we believe is untrue. If we were to refuse to shake another’s hand only because they disagree with our position, wewould be intolerant. If I can connect with you, if I can find something admirable in you, even as I vehemently disagree with you, I am tolerant.

It shocks me to see people make their difference of opinion personal. I say blue, you say red, why does this make us enemies? I haven’t done anything to hurt you, have i? I am liberal, you are conservative, why can’t we meet over tea and talk about history, geography, sports or the weather? In fact, why can’t we talk about politics? Can’t we have robust debate without making the disagreement personal? Is there only room around our table for people who agree with us?

At times, I feel like shaking the whole of society out of the inane rut into which it has fallen. The rut that requires sameness and agreement in order to get along. I think that disagreeing is healthy. It either opens our minds to other points of view or sharpens our conviction in the rectitude of our own.

Naturally, this is only possible for those capable of intelligent debate. People who raise their voices instead of reinforcing their arguments tend to make disagreement personal.

Don’t Fight on the Path
Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but in a surprise turn of events, Joseph went from slavery to becoming viceroy of Egypt. When a famine struck the Middle East, and the brothers traveled to Egypt to purchase food, where food was plentiful, they discovered that their own brother was now viceroy. Joseph sent them home laden with food and gifts, but admonished them not to fight on the path.

The conventional understanding of this admonishment was that he wanted to be sure they would not fight over who was at fault for selling him into slavery. But one commentator took a novel approach to these words.

Joseph understood that he was different from his brothers. They were introverts, who preferred shepherding and meditating in solitude, he was an extrovert who loved to mingle.

Joseph understood that his brothers’ primary issue with him was this basic difference. They were afraid of the one anomaly in the family who had embarked on an unfamiliar path. They had no idea where this path might lead, and didn’t think it would lead anywhere good. In an bid to stop him and arrest his influence with the others, they sold him into slavery.

Now that they were reunited, Joseph admonished them, “don’t fight over the path,” don’t get into a fight over which path in the service of G-d, is the correct one. We know that we disagree, but just because we disagree, doesn’t mean that we need to fight. We don’t have to grow angry when we discover a divergent point of view. Others are entitled to respect, even if you think they are wrong.

It is okay to think they are wrong. It is okay to tell them that they are wrong. But it must be communicated with respect. Remember that you are disagreeing with the idea, not with the person. The person is lovely despite his or her insistence on the wrong point of view. If you can’t agree with this person on this one subject, look for another subject where you can.




 

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