If there is one problem that has plagued the human race for a long time, then it is tolerance. The human race is made up of a diverse range of individuals coming from all walks of life. These individuals espouse different characteristics, values, and beliefs. It is these differences that have often acted as an impetus for societal clashes and intolerance. Some cultural groups in the society cannot simply tolerate the values of each other. They disapprove of these cultural values and beliefs and have no qualms letting the other group know it. This then often leads to societal clashes. However, intolerance does not only occur across different cultural and social groups in the society. It can also occur between individuals in the society, some even from the same social group. This mainly occurs when one individual disapproves the other’s life choices, behaviors, attitudes, and values. Normally, intolerance is accompanied by lack of respect where individuals lose the respect they have for each other. This once again sets up a lot of individual clashes in the society. Ultimately, no one desires to see clashes in the society. The question that has therefore been asked by many philosophers is whether humans begins should exhibit tolerance towards people that they disapprove in order to show them respect or whether they should tolerate because they cannot simply bring themselves to respect them.
This is indeed a contentious issue that has been explored and touched on by a relatively large number of authors. Some have explored the aspect of tolerance and what it exactly entails. Others have looked at the limits of tolerance and the situations where it is applicable and not applicable (Williams & Waldron, 2008). What emerges from all this literature is that tolerance is actually a subjective term that exhibits a lot of dynamism across different society contexts. What may, for example, be tolerable in one society may not necessarily be tolerable in another society. Tolerance also varies from one individual to the other. There are some levels of disapproval where tolerance is impossible. An individual may loathe the other so much that tolerating them is simply impossible. Alternatively, the behavior of one individual may be viewed by another so negative that once again, tolerance is impossible.
The absence of tolerance can be accompanied by two specific scenarios. One, the individual who disapproves of the other’s behaviors may choose to simply walk away and never interact with that individual again (Scanlon, 2003). Simply put, the individual may cut the ties between him and the other individual completely because he simply cannot tolerate the other.
In the second scenario, the individual who disapproves of the other may choose to confront them. Once again, confrontation is a subjective term. It can mean verbal confrontation or physical confrontation. Verbal confrontation is where the individual makes it known to the other why they disapprove their behavior attitude and values. Unfortunately, emotions might get high during the verbal confirmation, and this may translate to the individuals physically confronting each other by fighting. This can have disastrous effects for both parties, and they may end up injuring each other or worse still killing each other.
However, the consequence for the first type of intolerance which constitutes walking away are less severe (McKinnon, 2005). In fact, some consider it be the noble thing to do when one does not approve of the other, whether it is their behavior, their attitude, their values or even their entire being.
The conventional definition of tolerance is a deliberate choice to either put up or leave alone what one disapproves of dislikes when one actually has the power to react or act otherwise. It is usually a matter of degree (Scanlon, 2003). For example, one might actually leave the object or aspect of tolerance alone or one might actually choose to subject this object to ridicule criticism, pressure, social sanctions, physical force and persecution (Horton & Mendus, 1985)
The issue of tolerance has in fact been debated for a long time, right from the days of John Locke who is in his famous manuscript “A Letter concerning Toleration” called for religious tolerance among various society groups of the time. Locke wrote his letter when England was cutting down its ties with the Roman Catholic Church and making Protestantism as the official religion. His principal claim in this manuscript was that the government, or the state authority should not attempt to use force in order to make citizens subscribe to a certain religion that the government considers to be the true religion (Locke, 1689).
He also claimed that religious organizations and entities are voluntary in nature and, therefore, they have absolutely no right to use any form of coercive power over their member or even those who are not members. Simply put, Locke’s main arguments that force should never be used as a way of instilling beliefs to people who do not subscribe to these beliefs. In addition, people should not be persecuted for subscribing to a certain set of beliefs (Locke, 1689).
Locke’s logic and model is applicable to not only the religious context but also across various other societal contexts. His logic can be interpreted as calling for respect and tolerance for the people whose beliefs are different.
In fact, tolerance and respect go in hand in hand. Respect means that even if one may disagree with the belief and behaviors of the other, as long as they do not affect the being of one, the one has to respect the other.
There are various things in the society that elicit tolerance and non-tolerance. As mentioned earlier, these include practices, ideologies, and beliefs, ethnic, social and religious groups among others.
As it has been shown tolerance to some simply translates to putting up with. Respect, on the other hand, refers to feelings of deep admiration for an individual who has achieved something (McKinnon, 2005). This is often elicited by the achievements or the qualities of another individual.
It is, however, crucial to understand that there is indeed a huge difference between tolerance and respect.
Keen analysis reveals that tolerance alone is associated with some kind of ingenuity. People often use the term to show that they are acceptive of other cultures or values but do have any respect for them. This is a very biased approach given that in many cases, people do not actually take the time to learn why some people subscribe to certain behaviors.
Members of the social liberal movement would perhaps argue that people are all the same and then being truly liberal translates to accepting that people are unique and different and that there is nothing wrong with this (Kukathas, 2003).
Being truly liberal also means respecting other people for their differences and not simply tolerating them (Kukathas, 2003).
A person can tolerate something but not welcome it. This then has the potential to make certain groups in the society or certain people in the society to feel weak and inferior. In fact, when keenly analyzed, tolerating comes off as quite disrespectful and demeaning. This is especially in regards to human beings. It may appear like it has the best intentions, but in reality, it does not and is in fact quite demeaning.
The lifestyles and cultures are something to be tolerated but should instead be respected. As it has been emphasized, to say that one tolerates something brings out some form of bigotry. Tolerating is also not something final. One can tolerate something for some time, and when another time arrives, one may decide that they no longer want to tolerate that thing, and this is when conflict emerges (Heyd, 1996).
Respect, on the other hand, is final. Unlike tolerance, one does not have to pretend to like or even welcome something. By respecting, it means that one acknowledges the difference in values views and beliefs and also acknowledges the right of the people to have these views.
It is also means accepting that one may not be always right and that it is proper to give or provide room for other views and beliefs that may, in the long run, tend to be more accurate.
Therefore, although one may not necessarily welcome the opposing views, respect means that one is mature enough to acknowledge that they exist. This becomes essential in not only comprehending a concept from several perspectives, but it also helps people to understand their own beliefs and views better (Kymlicka, 1995).
For example, encountering a differing view and respecting it enables one to go back to his or her own view, gauge it with the differing view and try to assess the correctness of this view. In such a case, the answer is never definite and because of the presence of respect, one is able to leave it at that, unlike saying that one tolerates something only for this tolerance to wear off one day and for the person then to start confronting the other, perhaps even physically and then leading to unwanted results like societal clashes and injuries (McKinnon & Castiglione, 2003).
John Stuart Mill is another famous philosopher who has explored the issue of tolerance. His 1869 essay “On Liberty” addresses the issue of liberty, and his logic can also be applied to other differing societal values, beliefs, and opinions. In fact, in this essay, he advocates for tolerance on not only religious differences but other aspects of life as well.
Mills argues that the toleration in modern societies is actually required in order to cope with the many forms of irreconcilable social, political and cultural plurality.
Mills provides three main arguments or points for toleration. In regard to the harm principle, he contends that the exercise of social or political power can only be legitimate if it is required to prevent the harming of one individual by another and not to enforce as specific idea of good or superiority in a manner that is paternalistic (Mills, 1859).
His second point is that toleration towards varying opinions receives justification from the utilitarian concept or belief that both false and true opinions actually lead to social learning processes that are highly productive.
The final argument brought forth by Mill is that toleration of experiments of living that are usual is in justifiable romantically because it stresses the values of originality and individuality which are natural urges in all human beings (Mills, 1859).
Some may argue for example that tolerating and respecting people and ideas are two different things. For example, an argument may be brought forth that one can respect other people but when it comes to their ideas, tolerance is enough. However, double standards should not be applied. The situation can perhaps be helped by understanding that ideas do not exist on their own. They do not exist out of people’s minds and, in fact, for one to gain knowledge on differing ideas; one often has to hear them from s second person show believes in them. Therefore, it would not be proper to substantiate ideas from people and when it comes to respect, it should be applied generally to only people but to their ideas as well since they are one and the same (Kymlicka, 1995).
The current society is characterized by the plurality of ideas, views and opinions on almost everything. The same society is also characterized by a host of social, cultural and political differences as well individuals’ differences between people. These differences often lead to disapproval, and when this occurs, people can either choose to tolerate or respect these differences. This essay has shown that simply tolerating, although helpful in some situations, is not as effective as respecting differing views, behaviors or values. Tolerance may wear off in the future, but respect is final and in addition to preventing conflict and social clashes, it enables persons to understand concepts from different perspectives and also analyze their own views and opinions. Therefore, respect should always take precedence over tolerance.
Scanlon, Timothy, 2003. The Difficulty of Tolerance. Essays in Political Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 187–201.
Kukathas, Chandran. 2003. The Liberal Archipelago: A Theory of Diversity and Freedom, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McKinnon, Catriona. 2005. Toleration: A Critical Introduction, London & New York: Routledge.
Heyd, David. 1996. Toleration: An Elusive Virtue. Princeton: Princeton University Press;
Horton, John & Mendus., Susan. 1985., Aspects of Toleration: Philosophical Studies. London: Methuen. Susan Mendus., 1999. The Politics of Toleration: Tolerance and Intolerance in Modern Life. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. McKinnon, Catriona & Castiglione, Dario. 2003. The Culture of Toleration in Diverse Societies: Reasonable Toleration. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press.
Williams, Melissa S & Waldron. Jeremy. 2008. Toleration and Its Limits. New York &
London: New York University Press.
Locke John., 1689. A Letter Concerning Toleration.
Mill, John Stuart., 1859. On Liberty.
Kymlicka, Will. 1995. Multicultural Citizenship. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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