Washburn student notes lack of tolerance

Sam Foreman

As the story goes, Abraham Lincoln was sitting in church one day and, after the sermon, was talking with the preacher, who naturally wanted to know what the president thought of the sermon.

“You failed,” Lincoln replied. It was a good sermon, but a failure because the minister had failed to “ask something great” of those listening.

You and I are surrounded by a cultural movement that bears as its standard the word “tolerance” and fails partly because it asks only mediocrity of its adherents.

Tolerance is a good word, if you are talking about a long car ride to grampa and gramma’s and you have to “tolerate” your siblings. But tolerance doesn’t go far enough. Tolerance allows you to merely allow the presence of another whose behaviors and beliefs you’d alter if you could.

Tolerance also fails because it wears out at the end of the day since it’s not internally motivated, but is brought on by peer pressure, media and in some cases, legislation.

In addition, some of the big voices pushing “tolerance” are really after something else: acceptance. And not an acceptance built on understanding or mutuality, but a blind acceptance in most cases of lifestyles to which one may have a principled objection. These people, some of whom are elected officials, are pushing legislation that would make it a hate crime to express this disagreement, even as part of one’s religious beliefs. These persons would force others to be “tolerant.”

That’s not tolerance; that is coercion. Coercion does not heal broken societal relationships, it deepens divides and furthers the destruction of open communication and understanding. Do you remember when your mother made you apologize? Were you sincere in your apology? That’s what I thought.

What really bothers me about the tolerance movement is that it has paraded itself as a champion of equality while only advocating tolerance toward a limited number of groups. The tolerance movement asks that some give tolerance, without asking that they be given tolerance. When was the last time you heard someone advocating that members of a pro-family group that objects to the homosexual lifestyle be tolerated?

Some have responded that tolerance is only necessary if one is discriminated against, or if one is a minority. OK, well, what about rich people? Or conservative Christians? Both fall into minority groups when so defined. The propagation of the tolerance principle has failed in part because its inconsistent advocation and application have divided those who must buy into its validity and value in order to succeed in the cohesion of the societal fragments we face every day.

If we construct for ourselves a society that is based upon a superficial acceptance of others, beneath the surface of which simmers resentment and insincere behavior without real change of people’s internal feelings or motivations, as soon as those outside pressures are gone, and at some point they will be, then given the right pressures and cultural context, that façade will come crashing down, destroying the appearance of peace and harmony and turning back the clock on “progress.”

I personally believe that all Americans should receive equal treatment under the law – no one should be the recipient of special treatment. None of us chose the way we were born, who our parents were, what color our skin was, or the circumstances we faced as grew into adults – but all of us choose how we respond to our circumstances and how we respond to others. Equality in the law ought to be a natural outgrowth of our collective beliefs in the equal value of all human lives.

So what works? I’ll tell you what works for me, and why I think it’ll work for you. Love.

You see it working every day – the helping hand with a bowl of soup for the poor. The men and women who put their lives in harm’s way every day to protect ours; the friend who keeps your secrets, who defends your honor; the one who accepts and understands you and values you in spite of your differences.

Love cares enough to openly and honestly communicate. Love forgives those who are really annoying. Love patiently seeks understanding. Love takes you as you are. Love treats you just as it treats everyone else. Love truly cares what happens to you. Love will help another at the expense of itself. Love is a true friend.

You don’t choose the family into which you’re born, and tolerance really isn’t enough to hold a family together through this chaotic culture we share. We’re all in this human family together: black, white, brown, gay, straight, religious, atheist, Republican and Democrat.

Sure, you can isolate yourself, sit in the back seat and not talk to anyone else, or scream until you get your way, but that won’t last, and at the end of the day you’ll find you have exactly what you wanted – but no one with whom to share it.

So I’m going to ask something great of you: Love – love your brothers and sisters, even when it is hard – because at the end of the day, if you really want sunshine you have to make it yourself, because we control the weather.

Sam ForemanWashburn student