The Intolerance of Tolerance

I received an interesting response to a Twitter post last week from a 20-something young man. He told me he had read many of my books, but regretted it now based on some of my Twitter posts. Then, making a huge leap linking me to comments from conservatives, he told me that he couldn’t follow me anymore because “conservatives don’t have any compassion.” He said they were just too intolerant. I first asked him what anything conservatives or the Republican Party says had to do with my books. (Or the Democratic Party for that matter.)  But more important, I told him he didn’t sound very tolerant if he decided to not follow me based on some of my opinions.

He responded that he was extremely tolerant, but didn’t like what I had to say, so he didn’t want to hear it anymore. Sounded to me like he wasn’t as “tolerant” as he thought. I called him on it, and after a few more exchanges, he finally asked: “OK – maybe I don’t understand this “tolerance” thing. Can you explain it to me?”

At that moment, I realized a huge challenge with this culture today. We’ve lost the real definition of the word “tolerance,” and have shifted it to a more politically correct definition of “being tolerant of things I agree with.”  Worse, too many think tolerant means not just allowing other opinions to be heard, but having to agree with them.

The basis for civil discourse is being able to listen to ideas you disagree with, and honoring their value.  Being for or against gay marriage, abortion, the death penalty, parking fines, or hundreds of other issues doesn’t mean the other side shouldn’t be heard.  I will fight to the death for you to have the freedom to express your opinion, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.

That’s the big question: Can we have a country where people really value disagreement?  Or should we use the power of the media or the state to silence opinions some find offensive?

What do you think?


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.