Practicing the Fine Art of Tolerance

We live in a culture that prides itself on being tolerant. Tolerance has become our culture’s buzz word.

Unfortunately, our culture has redefined what it means to be tolerant.

Our culture says to be tolerant, we must agree with someone, regardless of their decisions, beliefs, or lifestyle. 

But this isn’t tolerance at all.

Webster's Dictionary defines tolerance this way: 

Tolerance – sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own. 

Pastor George Wright, of Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia, SC, adds further clarity: 

“To be tolerant, there must be conflict. 

 To be tolerant, there must be differences. 

To be tolerant, we must disagree (but never be disagreeable). 

Tolerance is not about agreement. Tolerance is about disagreeing and still finding a way to get along. 

True tolerance says ‘I don’t agree with you, ‘ or ‘I don’t think you’re right, but I still love you. I still care about you. And I’m not going anywhere because of my care for you.’” 

Martin Luther King would be considered intolerant by today’s standards. 

He said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” He was intolerant of people’s prejudice, and he spoke out against it. But he did it respectfully and with love. 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness,” he said, “only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” 

Abraham Lincoln would also be considered intolerant by today’s standards. 

He disagreed with those who supported slavery. But he did it respectfully. He said, "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, cannot long retain it. 

Consider this example from a letter to a colleague: “You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. For this, neither has any just occasion to be angry with the other. " 

And the greatest example of all, Jesus would be considered intolerant by today’s standards. 

He spoke truth that was hard to hear, but necessary. To the religious and the non-religious alike he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father except through me."   But he said it respectfully and with love. 

And he demonstrated that love. “Greater love has no man than this,” he said, “than he lay down his life for his friends.” 

These three are powerful examples of how to be tolerant without watering down what we believe. 

From their examples, I’ve developed three life goals. 

This is how I intend to practice tolerance: 

1. While I may not agree with someone’s ideas, I will always strive to honor them as human beings, created in God’s image. 

2. While I may not agree with what someone says, as Evelyn Beatrice Hall said to Voltaire, “I will defend to the death (their) right to say it.” 

3. When I disagree with someone, I will strive to separate the issue from the person. I am free to reject ideas, but I should never reject people. 

Tolerance doesn’t mean we water down or compromise our convictions in deference. As Mahatma Ghandi said, “Tolerance obviously does not disturb the distinction between right and wrong, or good and evil.” 

Firmly-held beliefs are not the enemies of tolerance, they are the foundations of tolerance. 

In its truest sense, as Ghandi said, “Tolerance is the only thing that will enable persons belonging to different religions (political parties, social agendas, sports teams) to live as good neighbours and friends.” 

The freedom to disagree is a right granted by our country. 

The responsibility to disagree is a standard given to us by our Creator. 

The apostle Paul instructed the church at Collosse, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” 

These are my goals: 

To unashamedly embrace my convictions, 
Respect my fellow man, 
And practice tolerance wherever I go. 

I hope they will be your goals, too.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on tolerance (as long as you're respectful). Leave a comment below and join the conversation.

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  1. Great explanation. Tolerance does not equal acceptance.

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