Is Teaching Tolerance the Solution or the Problem?

Donald Trump is absolutely correct that “the big problem this country has is being politically correct.” As Ben Carson explained, “Political correctness is ruining our country. It is corrosive because ‘many people will not say what they believe because someone will look askance at them, call them a name. Somebody will mess with their job, their family.'” In fact, one of the things many people like most about Trump is his willingness to say what they believe and were afraid to say for the reasons Carson stated.

According to William A. Galston, a Brookings Institution scholar who advised President Bill Clinton, “Driving powerful sentiments underground is not the same as expunging them. What we’re learning from Trump is that a lot of people have been biting their lips, but not changing their minds.”

In other words, the only difference between tolerance and intolerance is political correctness. 

In fact, some “argue that growing antipathy to the notion of political correctness has become an all-purpose excuse for the inexcusable. They say it has emboldened too many to express racism, sexism and intolerance, which endure even as the country grows more diverse.”

This is entirely consistent with philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti’s definition of tolerance, which is as follows:

You have your beliefs, and another has his; you hold to your particular form of religion and another to his; you are a Christian, another is a Mahomedan, and yet another a Hindu. You have these religious dissensions and distinctions, but yet you talk of brotherly love, tolerance and unity – not that there must be uniformity of thought and ideas. The tolerance of which you speak is merely a clever invention of the mind; this tolerance merely indicates the desire to cling to your own idiosyncrasies, your own limited ideas and prejudices, and allow another to pursue his own. In this tolerance there is no intelligent diversity, but only a kind of superior indifference. There is utter falsity in this tolerance. You say, ‘You continue in your own way, and I shall continue in mine; but let us be tolerant, brotherly.’ When there is true brotherliness, friendliness, when there is love in your heart, then you will not talk of tolerance. Only when you feel superior in your certainty, in your position, in your knowledge, only then do you talk of tolerance. You are tolerant only when there is distinction. With the cessation of distinction, there will be no talk of tolerance. Then you will not talk of brotherhood, for then in your hearts you are brothers.”

The following sentence conveys Krishnamurti view of acceptance: “When there is true brotherliness, friendliness, when there is love in your heart, then you will not talk of tolerance.”

You can disagree with someone and still accept them and their perspective. 

According to John Gottman, a world-renowned relationship expert, not all conflicts can be resolved. “Unresolvable ‘perpetual’ problems exist even in the healthiest of relationships due to ‘lasting personality differences between partners.” Gottman has found that “only 31% of couples’ major areas of continuing disagreement were about resolvable issues…. Sixty-nine percent of the time, couples conflicted about perpetual issues in the relationship that never get resolved. What mattered was not solving these problems but the affect around which they were discussed. The goal seemed to be to establish a dialogue with the perpetual problem [even differences in deeply held values] that communicated acceptance of the partner, humor, affection, even amusement, and active coping with the unresolvable problem rather than the condition of ‘gridlock.’”

Notice that Gottman also used the term “acceptance”, rather than “tolerance.” 

Social science researcher Brene’ Brown has never mentioned anything about tolerating others, but she has said the following:

“When it comes to our sense of love, belonging, and worthiness, we are most radically shaped by our families of origin – what we hear, what we are told, and perhaps most importantly, how we observe our parents engaging with the world….

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are….

The important thing to know about worthiness is that it doesn’t have prerequisites. Most of us, on the other hand, have a long list of worthiness prerequisites – qualifiers we’ve inherited, learned and unknowingly picked up along the way. Most of these prerequisites fall in the categories of accomplishments, acquisitions, and external acceptance…. Shame loves prerequisites….

Empathy and shame are on opposite ends of a continuum. Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. Shame is how we see ourselves in others’ eyes. Shame results in fear, blame (of self or others), and disconnection. Shame tells us that our imperfections make us inadequate. Shame separates and isolates. On the other hand, empathy involves understanding another person’s situation from their perspective. As such, you must be able to place yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel what they are feeling and without judging them. Empathy moves us to a place of courage and compassion. Through it, we come to realize that our perspective is not the perspective. Empathy is incompatible with shame and judgment. In fact, it is the most powerful antidote to shame.”

The reason tolerating others is not in Brown’s vocabulary is because we judge those we tolerate.  

Judgment happens to everyone at some point, and it hurts. [Think of] an experience you had when you felt judged [treated differently for who you are] or like people were making assumptions about you; this could be an experience based on your sexual orientation, race, class, sex, etc.” 

Discrimination is “the treatment of a person or particular group of people differently, in a way that is worse than the way people are usually treated…. Discrimination is also prejudice against people and a refusal to give them their rights.”

Yet, “in its polling on a variety of same-sex marriage ballot measures, Lake Research had found that many voters define ‘discrimination’ as treating someone wrongly, not simply treating them differently….”

Discrimination is a rotten experience, being stigmatized is life-changing, and experiencing or witnessing the scalding unfairness and unkindness of prejudice is unforgettable.”

Tolerance is part of discrimination, which explains why we have intolerance. Acceptance is the answer, not tolerance.  

Meanwhile, rather than encourage us to be accepting of others, we tout the importance of tolerance.

For example, the “Pope urges ‘tolerant and inclusive’ US society.” Never mind that inclusiveness comes with acceptance, not tolerance.

Consider the following quote from an article titled The Rise of Hate Search that was published by the New York Times:

Another solution might be for leaders to talk about the importance of tolerance and the irrationality of hatred, as President Obama did in his Oval Office speech last Sunday night. He asked Americans to reject discrimination and religious tests for immigration. The reactions to his speech offer an excellent opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t work.

Mostly, we found that Mr. Obama’s well-meaning words fell on deaf ears. Overall, in fact, his speech provoked intolerance. The president said, ‘It is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.’ But searches calling Muslims ‘terrorists,’ ‘bad,’ ‘violent’ and ‘evil‘ doubled during and shortly after his speech.”

Speaking of President Obama, consider the following quote by the editors of The New Yorker:

Every Presidential election involves a contest over the idea of America. Obama’s America—one that progresses, however falteringly, toward social justice, tolerance, and equality—represents the future that this country deserves.”

We also have the Museum of Tolerance

And, let’s not forget that the Southern Poverty Law Center has a program titled Teaching Tolerance, which is “dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations and supporting equitable school experiences for our nation’s children…. [The] project combats prejudice among our nation’s youth while promoting equality, inclusiveness and equitable learning environments in the classroom.”

Based upon everything I know, teaching tolerance rather than acceptance is teaching prejudice. The Southern Poverty Law Center seems to be using the name as synonymous with acceptance, which it’s not.  Words have meaning. I wish they had called the program Teaching Acceptance.

On April 10, 2017, the Law Journal Editorial Board, New Jersey Law Journal published an article titled It’s ‘Equality,’ Not ‘Tolerance’ which stated in part as follows:

In response to an apparently coordinated set of bomb threats to 10 Jewish Community Centers around the country, Ivanka Trump Kushner recently tweeted, ‘America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance.’ We are sure that she had good intentions, but her understanding of this country’s values is incomplete. America is not built on the principle of religious tolerance. It is built on the principle of religious freedom and equality.”

I’ll conclude with the following quote from an article by Brynn Tannehill titled The Difference Between Tolerance And Acceptance:

There a world of difference between tolerance and acceptance. Living someplace that is merely tolerant without acceptance is like an existence within a sensory deprivation chamber.

It won’t directly kill you, but it exacts a toll….

Mere tolerance is a wraith with no past and no future, an existence out of phase with its reality. And by no future, I mean that this tolerant existence precludes the opportunity to build fully realized relationships. There is no starting point to discover commonalities, to build, to connect.

Or to love. To be loved. To be needed and wanted and have the full range of the human experience available to you.”


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