The Paradox of Tolerance


September 4, 2016 by Cláudia

Life gets progressively more complicated as we awaken values and beliefs: we get more mindful of our actions, their consequences and the actions of others. But some values seem to be contradictory and it gets hard to know how to act, how to think and feel.

This happens to me when it comes to tolerance. I have always believed in tolerance and I believe it’s absolutely imperative if we want to even dream about peace. But tolerance in theory turned out to be way more difficult in reality. I found that deeply caring about an issue comes with a great counterpart – a feeling of intolerance towards those who do not care or are the cause of the problem. Whether it is human rights, the environment, animal rights etc. it’s easy to get caught up with negative emotions and thoughts like “It’s your fault that this happens. All the disastrous consequences of this problem happen because of people like you.”.

I found that tolerance carries around a great paradox: being tolerant towards everyone means to accept actions that completely go against my values. Being informed and educated about something will inevitably result in frustration when coming across people who don’t know about it and don’t care at all. Tolerance in extreme is condescending and means accepting low moral standards. It’s not demanding, it makes society stagnate. Not  knowing or caring about something is what perpetuates a problem, and considering everything as acceptable turned out to be not only impossible but undesirable. Radical moral relativism leads to having no progress whatsoever. People need to be challenged, counteracted – there needs to be dialogue instead of bland tolerance.

However, at the end of the day, I cannot make decisions for other people. I cannot make them care about the things I care about. And that’s something I must be at peace with. In order to be able to coexist with different people, it’s essential to accept that each person has their own struggles, their own story and as a result people end up in different places. I have changed my mind so many times so far so how can I judge or criticize other points of view? Education, personal history and culture affect people’s values and choices and each person has a different story. It’s not up to me to decide whether someone is going the right or wrong path. It’s only up to me to try to influence positively the ones around me.

There’s nothing that upsets me more than people that have legitimate values but then use them to ostracize and attack other people. There are a lot of things I don’t agree with and I will attack those ideas, but never individual people. For example, sometimes animal rights activists insult meat eaters and react emotionally (and offensively) when someone disregards their pledges. I always think that I was a meat eater once and no one ever treated me with such intolerance and hate. It’s good to be challenged, to present facts and alternatives, but to attack other people it’s just even more disruptive. When attacked, people tend to respond defensively and will not consider the actual idea for what they’ve been criticized.

Tolerance requires a hard balance I don’t think I’ve yet achieved. However, I do believe virtue lies in that exact balance.



2 thoughts on “The Paradox of Tolerance

  1. Becca says:

    I have a simple rule: if someone is blatantly causing harm to others or to the planet or animals, I don’t have to tolerate them. But as for minority groups, no human being should have to strive for tolerance or acceptance just for being who they are.

    Liked by 1 person

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