Tolerance (December 18)


“The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority” (Ralph W. Sockman).

LEARNING WHAT TOLERANCE IS AND HOW TO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE IS ONE OF THE MORE CHALLENGING REQUIREMENTS OF WISDOM. It’s not easy to distinguish the good kinds of tolerance from the bad kinds, and it’s even less easy to implement tolerance wisely in the practical affairs of everyday living. And so it’s inevitable that we’re going to make mistakes, either in being too tolerant or not tolerant enough. And to top it off, we have to learn how to tolerate those who have a different concept of tolerance than we do.

Sir James Goldsmith made this observation about tolerance: “Tolerance is a tremendous virtue, but the immediate neighbors of tolerance are apathy and weakness.” Real tolerance — the genuine article as opposed to its popular counterfeits — is a strong and sturdy quality. Never for a moment does it diminish the seriousness of some of the issues that separate human beings from one another, and it doesn’t limit its kindheartedness to people who disagree over matters that it considers insignificant. Yet this is what many do today who hold the “pop” concept of tolerance. If you think an issue is important that they think is just a matter of opinion, then you’re being “intolerant,” but if you dare to disagree with them on an issue that they see as important, then you’ll suddenly see a different side of them, one that looks for all the world like intolerance. So Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote a long time before our modern debate over tolerance, said, “I have seen gross intolerance shown in support of tolerance.”

True tolerance (the kind that’s tough to learn) wisely balances courage and consideration. It doesn’t sweep significant issues under the rug, but neither does it break relationships over disagreements that don’t require such a break. It knows how to say to somebody, “I believe you are wrong, and I believe the issue about which we disagree is extremely important — but I respect your dignity and worth as a human being. Let’s keep working together wherever we can!”

“Tolerance implies a respect for another person, not because he is wrong or even because he is right, but because he is human” (John Cogley).

Gary Henry –