I loved Kyeli’s post last week, and it got us started talking about tolerance and intolerance. During our conversation, I realized I had wound up smack dab in the middle of an ethical dilemma.
When you disagree with someone, when is tolerance the right choice,
and when is intolerance the right choice?
If you disagree on your favorite color, choose tolerance. “It’s okay for you to have a different favorite color than me.”
If you’re talking to a child abuser, choose intolerance. “It’s not okay for you to harm children.”
But where do you draw the line?
What about differences of child-raising philosophy? Politics? Religion?
Tolerance sounds great in theory, but is tolerance really the right choice when you’re tolerating a belief system that promotes hate, prejudice, or war? Is it right for me to tolerate others taking away my human rights?
An ye harm none…
Saying “Choose tolerance as long as they’re not harming anyone” sounds like a nice and tidy solution, but it doesn’t really solve anything, because everyone has a different definition of harm. From my point of view, my marriage with Kyeli isn’t harming anyone, but from others’ points of view, it’s harming the institution of marriage.
If you choose tolerance all the way, you might end up a doormat, letting everyone walk all over you. Multiplied out to a global scale, are doormats really going to change the world?
But if you choose intolerance all the way, and fight for what you believe in, don’t we end up with a world full of fighting?
After discussing and debating this for hours with Kyeli, I stopped suddenly, silenced. The answer had pierced my heart like an arrow.
Hold tolerance, compassion, and love in your heart for every human being, no matter what.
Anyone who tries to harm you is, at the root, afraid. They are acting out of fear because they don’t feel safe, they don’t feel secure, they don’t feel loved. You know what it feels like to feel afraid and alone. You can feel compassion for others as fellow human beings.
Practice fierceness in your actions.
You can stand up for yourself and at the same time feel compassion for those who are persecuting you.
Last but not least, the bridge:
Reach out and connect with others, even if you disagree with them. Make sure you’re getting your own needs met first — this kind of connection can burn you out if you’re not emotionally and spiritually nourished.
But it’s building these bridges that makes the difference between a group of friends who all agree with each other… and a revolution.