On “Tolerance”

“The connotations of ‘tolerance’ are deeply problematic. Allow me to elaborate on this point: the root of the term ‘tolerance’ comes from medieval toxicology and pharmacology , marking how much poison a body could ‘tolerate’ before it would succumb to death. Is this the best we can do? Is it our task to figure out how many ‘others’… we can tolerate before it really kills us?….I don’t want to ‘tolerate’ my fellow human beings, but rather to engage them at the deepest level of what makes us human, through both our phenomenal commonality and our dazzling cultural differences. If we are to have any hope of achieving anything resembling a just peace in the future, that examination needs to include both the greatest accomplishments of all civilizations, and also a painful scrutiny of the ways in which the place of privilege has come at a great cost to others.”

Omid Safi, in the introduction to the fantastic Progressive Muslims: On Jusice, Gender, and Pluralism

In his 1997 commencement speech at DePaul University, Elie Wiesel made a complementary remark:

I believe… that intolerance is the enemy of learning, and it is the enemy of progress, the enemy of humanity. Now what is the opposite of intolerance. Not tolerance. Tolerance is a word that has a condescending tone. “I tolerate you.” The opposite of intolerance is respect. We must respect one another, not in spite of our differences, but because of our differences.

Engage. Examine. Respect. Peace.

One thought on “On “Tolerance”

  1. If I may guess as to the source of the problem, and assert why people tolerate, rather than respect, I would say the problem arises from the certainty which individuals have in the supremacy of their own moral belief systems (especially systems relying on a deontological approach). If people could shed their illusions of absolute objective truth, they may be better able to grasp that different views merely spring from different subjective value systems (although one can say such systems are formed by external factors as well as internal ones). Then again, this is a big if. Morals when viewed as objectively true or transcedent (like the vague, and psychologically motivated desire for justice) are probably better able to induce changes in behavior than if people thought no moral truths can be known with certainty. More directly, if people came to see varied moral systens as merely response to varied resource environments (that is, if they accepted the implications of biological altruism), they would probably respect rather than tolerate. (Apologies for any misuse of terms or spelling errors, mobile phones are not conducive to perfect postings).

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