What Does It Mean to Be Tolerant?... Has it changed?

What Does It Mean to Be Tolerant Has it changed

Rules of this site state that members treat each other with respect and tolerance. But what does it mean to be tolerant? The use of the word "tolerance" has changed in recent years. While it used to mean that you defended a person's right to hold a different belief, it now appears to mean that everyone is right, regardless of their beliefs. This article presents tolerance as being free to state disagreements, while maintaining respect for opposing viewpoints.

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Historically, the meaning of tolerance has been summed up in these words often attributed to Voltaire. Even if you strongly disagreed with a belief or an opinion that was held, you could state your disagreement and attempt to persuade the person with your arguments. As you did so, you would maintain your respect for the person's position.

In recent years, though, this understanding of tolerance seems to have changed. At least, it has changed in the popular usage of the term. Today, tolerance appears to mean that everyone must agree regardless of what is said. No one is permitted to state an opposing viewpoint or accuse another of being wrong because that would be considered intolerant.

This "anything goes" mentality squashes a person's ability to think freely and formulate a belief system. This understanding of tolerance is manifested primarily from two opposite extremes:

1. Personal attacks on those who hold a deviating position.

Consider how personal the attacks can become over the issues of abortion, same-sex marriage, and religion. You likely hold strong beliefs regarding each of these issues; how would you respond to someone who holds an opposing opinion? What kinds of labels would you apply? Would you call people "homophobic" because they might hold a deeply held belief that marriage should be a heterosexual union? Would you accuse people of being "baby killers" when they express a pro-choice opinion?

It is possible for a person to hold a dissenting position for reasons that do not involve prejudice, hatred, or bigotry. The person may be wrong in that position, but there may be reasons that support it. Instead of immediately going on the offensive, it would be better to keep a cool head and engage in a civil discussion. You might discover that the person has some good arguments.

2. Proclamations that any and all positions are equally right.

From this extreme, anything a person says must be accepted as valid and true. This, though, is not tolerance in the traditional sense. After all, if everyone agrees with everyone else, what is there to be tolerant of? Ironically, people who adopt this understanding of tolerance believe that everyone is right except those who make the claim that their way is the right way. They are tolerant of everyone with the exception of those they consider to be intolerant.

While it is true that every person has a right to his or her opinion, not every opinion is correct. The very nature of truth is exclusive. If something is right, then by definition something else is wrong. Two plus two always equals four, not five. As "tolerant" as the prospect might sound, it is impossible for every conflicting opinion to be equally right. That is why open and honest conversations without the threat of confrontation or accusations are important. The goal should be to discover which position is truly correct, not insist that every position is equally correct.

The rhetoric used in relation to politics, religion, lifestyle choices, and just about every other controversial subject has never been more heated. No... tolerance does not mean that you have to agree with everyone. But it does mean that you listen, you show respect, and you state your disagreement in a controlled, reasonable manner.

Comments (7)

tolerannce as defined now is not just sick but pure EVIL

Maybe we should look at one side here i have a Military background so understand this very well ,

How many men on the front lines would i allow to watch my back and help me when and if i needed it and would i do the same , yes i would and in other situstions i have done it so then the ? is would we give our lives for another, many did , and was there ever a ? of ...........

Hang on mate you dont belive what i do ........SO....

does it make a difference in time of need hes my mate and ill do what ever is needed and quite frankly i dont give a dam what he belives or not it does not change my view of him or others ,

What happens in the front line is different from sitting around a table and having a good old chin wag he,s still my mate regardless,and in civy life why should it be any different ,

Maybe i,v grown up and become more mature in my thinking of others and i mix with many people ,

The maturity of the person can be seen in how accepting they are of others ,

I agree that when you write about Religion or Politics that you can expect some people to disagree, however, my experience on CS whilst blogging, and reading others blog simply about God not preaching, just nice uplifting blogs, was that we were absolutely doused in Vitriol and nastiness,hostility and by downright bigots.
The comments were abusive [to my mind] as they were personally insulting, and there seemed to be a hidden Agenda. an Anti christian bias. So I took down all my Blogs where there had been nastiness and now, having been told by many they enjoyed my Blogs, I dont feel like blogging anymore, if I have to choose my words and cant mention the word God. Surely there is room for us all ?
For me tolerance means NOT resorting to personal insults and mockery when somebody questions your views, however forcefully that may be. If you put out your opinion then everybody has the right to question that opinion. If you don't want it questioned don't stick it out there. Some subjects will always generate heat and you should consider, are your beliefs strong enough, passionate enough, that you can respond to questioning of those beliefs without resorting to name-calling. Personally I think it is a waste of time because there will always be some who take personal affront to their views being questioned or who failing in their argument will change the subject by turning to personal attack.
Well, in engineering terms we talk of tolerance as how much deviation from perfection we will allow. So if we see our own standpoint as the correct and 'perfect' one then tolerance is the amount of difference we will allow from that.

In more spiritual terms though, my idea of tolerance has changed down through the years. In my young days tolerance meant in my mind, " I KNOW you are wrong but I'm not going to say anything and bite my bottom lip but I'm certainly not taking your opinions on board and I don't really want you in my company."

Later on it became, " OK, you have your views and I have mine and we'll just have to exist together with the differences however uncomfortable that may be."

More recently, and on an exceptionally good day it's become, " What a boring world it would be if everyone was like me and we all thought and felt the same way about everything. Let's celebrate the differences."


I have to have boundaries. Certain things about people are none of my business and I accept that. If somebody is preaching hatred, I believe I have to stand up and be counted. I have a right to stand up for the type of society I want to live in.

There's no secret that I don't agree with the direction this site has gone in. Too much of the politics of hatred and warmongering. Too much filth in s*xual areas. This may be the 21st centuary but surely there should be some standards.

I like to co-exist with decent people. I feel that the topics on this site drive away decent people and leave us with bitter individuals and trolls and that we all pay the price for that. Most of these people would not be welcome in my home or my life.

I cannot reason with an unreasonable person.
I cannot and should not accept the unacceptable.

If I am not careful, without barriers and boundaries I can lose me! What makes me an individual is how I feel, think and perceive the world around me and the people in it.

I wish more members would read this, as there is very little tolerance on certain threads in my opinion. Insults abound and very little is done about it.

I guess if the truth be known nothing will change, as this is a multi cultural site with many differences between people,countries, and religion.

Lessons for us all to learn.
What no comments ! Hmmm ....me the 1st ...like nail armstrong on the noon ,well sound logic and at the same time confusing like a which way anywhere direction sign!
To be or not to be ? There is no right or wrong here just everybody is right and nobody wrong? Or everybody is right and wrong in their view ?
I see neverending conclusion here ...at least i'm the 1st human to comment ! :) ;-) peace
EliRose: "Try for something more?"(meet us in the quizzes)

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