If tolerance were easy, everyone would do it.
And by tolerance, I don’t mean moral equivalency. I know quite a few people who pride themselves on their ability to “stay out of it.” To watch from the sidelines as people are hurt, or bullied, and not take sides. They feel that their indifference to another’s suffering is branding them as “tolerant” when all it’s doing is confirming them as people with no spine. You can say “I’m against bullying” all you want, and share all the Facebook memes you want, but if you stand by and watch while someone else is bullied then guess what: you’re not anti-bullying.
If you prioritize your own comfort–and that includes curating how people see you–over doing what you claim to believe is right, then you’re not tolerant. You’re self absorbed. And a hypocrite. And yet, many times, people tend to keep their mouths shut because they’re afraid of consequences. They turn a blind eye because what if they intervene, and then someone doesn’t like them? Putting aside why you’d want the good opinion of a bully, or how valuable that good opinion would be, the issue is consequences: consequences, in this case, being that taking a stand means being more popular with some and less with others.
As John Lennon observed, “being honest won’t get you a lot of friends, but it’ll get you the right ones.”
Recently, I was engaged in a discussion of the group “Ordain Women.” This isn’t a topic I’d planned on discussing on this blog because, frankly, I think everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and I’m not looking to proselytize–about anything. Except, perhaps, the excellence of my books. But I digress. The discussion in question turned nasty because one of the participants, an ex-Mormon, saw my membership in the church as an “invitation to discussion” of why the church was wrong. Now, as someone who never in my life has seen anyone’s difference as an invitation to discussion, of anything, except perhaps an inquiry into their unique point of view I found this confusing. Isn’t diversity supposed to be a good thing?
She then proceeded to do exactly what she claimed others had done to her, and what she didn’t want: tell me why I was wrong, how the church was horrible, etc. To which my response was, hey, let’s all tolerate one another. I’m not looking to change anyone else’s mind; please don’t bag on me, just because I’m different than you. Her response was, essentially, to pathologize me: I guess my “live and let live” tendencies are the product of a brittle mind and my “practice the golden rule” mandate the nadir of intolerance. I guess if I were really tolerant, and had really good self esteem, I’d invite people to criticize me on the basis of pure conjecture and for no particular reason. Sort of like…what? Asking people to prove how okay with being gay they are by asking them to hang around with homophobes?
Because nothing says, “I have no tolerance for diversity” like asking people to tolerate diversity?
Moreover, I feel very strongly that if someone going to instigate a “discussion” of what’s wrong with another person, they should hold themselves to the standard of listening to that person’s response. Which, of course, wasn’t what happened. Which was, and is, unfortunate. I think, sometimes, what people really mean by “discussion” is an opportunity to reinforce their prejudices. You see, if I have a problem with her throwing a tantrum that would put my toddler to shame, I’m “just another intolerant church member.” Never mind the possibility that there are certain boundaries, which no self-respecting person allows another person to cross.
But one point that she raised, I wanted to address in depth: the idea that “tolerance” somehow means “freedom from consequences.” There’s no freedom from consequences–that’s an illusion. If you view yourself as some kind of innovator or freedom fighter or whatever, you have to realize that that is going to come with consequences. Every choice we make has consequences–and the truth of that statement has nothing to do with whether one attends a particular church. Or any church at all. Because it’s not some other person, or group of people, who decide the course of your life for you but you. You act, and the universe responds.
Or, as Mr. PJ wrote,
With all due respect, that’s magical thinking. The fact of the matter is, the LDS Church is a Christian church–it upholds the Gospels and the teachings of Christ. It also specifically requires members to make covenants that they will promise to keep–including covenants to obey the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church.
First and foremost, if you’re suggesting there’s no reason to excommunicate anyone for any reason, I couldn’t disagree more strongly. Christ (and His Church) was indeed endlessly loving–but only to those who repent of their sins. He was most definitely NOT accepting of unrepentant sinners and contrarians. The LDS Church is actually quite unique in that it considers excommunication and disfellowship an act of love–a way to encourage the person to rethink their mistakes and come back to the Church. Putting aside the issue of whether or not Ordain Women et al. fall into this category, surely it applies to those who have committed crimes of moral turpitude or violated other sacred moral laws?
Secondly, disagreeing with excommunication for the leader of Ordain Women is certainly your right, but objecting to it is also, quite frankly, a bit immature. No one forced her to make the covenants she made. She willingly chose to be part of the church, and then acted in a manner inconsistent with its values. And in fact, did so for quite a while before the Church finally took action. Why wouldn’t it make sense for them to threaten consequences? The idea that people should be able to say and act any way they like is consistent with an attitude of moral relativism–that it’s not as bad as other things, and that no one deserves to face consequences for their actions. It’s important to note, here, that that is indeed what she is facing: consequences for her actions–no one, including the church, is telling her what to think. They’re simply telling her that if she wants to head up a movement critical of the church and strive to undermine its teachings, that she may face excommunication as a result.
Which brings us back around to the same issue: tolerance is not moral equivalency. Tolerance is not looking the other way. Tolerance is not checking our obligations, as brothers and sisters to each other and as stewards of this earth, at the door. Tolerance is not ignoring evil, when you see it, out of some misplaced sense that doing so will cause others to see you as being tolerant. Conversely, cherishing one’s own moral compass does not make one intolerant. So what is tolerance?
Dallin H. Oaks, a noted jurist, gives the following definition: “Tolerance is defined as a friendly and fair attitude toward unfamiliar or different opinions and practices or toward the persons who hold or practice them. As modern transportation and communication have brought all of us into closer proximity to different peoples and different ideas, we have greater need for tolerance. This greater exposure to diversity both enriches our lives and complicates them. We are enriched by associations with different peoples, which remind us of the wonderful diversity of the children of God.”
I don’t pretend to know how decent people should put this principle into practice. This is a challenge that most of us, I think, if we’re really honest with ourselves, have been working on since we were born and will continue to work on for the rest of our lives. But what I do know is that–at least for me–the fundamental cornerstone of tolerance is the golden rule. Not the moral equivalency of looking the other way, but the choice to recognize other and different–in terms of doing what we believe is right, according to how we would want others to treat us–as equal. True tolerance doesn’t cause us to abandon our beliefs but, rather, to celebrate the best of them.
It challenges us, not to look the other way, but to become better.