A World of Tolerance

Hi Everyone,

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Technology and people’s willingness and ability to travel and migrate has greatly contributed to increasing cultural diversity within many countries and communities (including online communities). Greater cultural diversity presents both opportunities and challenges. Experiencing different cultures offers us opportunities to learn from each other as well as obtain exposure to alternative approaches to everyday life. However, when different cultures meet there is a high chance that misunderstandings and miscommunication will occur. Culture often strongly influences behaviour and practices. People mostly influenced by one culture could take for granted that certain behaviour is automatically followed by other cultures. When someone from another culture does not observe these behaviours or practices, their actions could easily be perceived as wrong, odd, or even offensive.

In this post, I discuss my opinions regarding tolerance. I discuss how, through tolerance, we can reduce or remedy misunderstandings and/or miscommunication that could occur between people from different cultures. I also make comparisons between reasonable tolerance and absolute tolerance.

What is tolerance?

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Below are definitions of the word ‘tolerance’ taken from the Cambridge Dictionary and dictionary.com.

Tolerance is the willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from your own, although you might not agree with or approve of them (Cambridge Dictionary).

Tolerance is:

  • a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.
  • a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions, beliefs, and practices that differ from one's own.
  • interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one's own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint (dictionary.com).

The above definitions indicate that tolerance is broad and covers any area where people may have a difference in beliefs, practices, ideas, opinions, and behaviour.

How can tolerance help?

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It is important to understand that everybody is different and everybody perceives the world differently. These differences exist even amongst people from the same culture and background. These differences are magnified between cultures. Therefore, we need to have an open mind when we engage with people from outside our culture. Some differences will be more apparent than others. Communication is an area where differences will be more clearly apparent. These difference could include:

  • knowledge and ability to communicate in a particular language
  • the type of language used to communicate a message
  • the tone and emphasis on particular words
  • the use of body language
  • the use of medium for expression (e.g. spoken vs. written)

Any of the above could lead to miscommunication. If we are aware that such differences could exist, we should make additional effort to understand what the other person is attempting to communicate.

As we spend more time with other people, we will begin to notice how their beliefs, practices, ideas, opinions, and behaviour differ from our own. This should provide us with an opportunity to learn more about them and provide others an opportunity to learn more about ours. In most cases, when we are tolerant, we can achieve greater understanding and build mutual respect.

Tolerance does not mean that we should always agree with others. Tolerance is most necessary when we do not agree with someone else. Opinions and beliefs often fall into that category. Someone of a different opinion may openly voice his or her disagreement with your opinion. If you strongly believe in your opinion, you may want to reassert your opinion. This could lead to a debate where two or more people push their opinions backwards and forwards. It is quite likely that at the end of the debate all parties are still in disagreement. That does not matter, if all parties show tolerance towards each other. At the end of the debate, each person should have a greater understanding of how the other people formed their opinions. This will help build respect and friendship. It may help each person understand other differences in opinion when they occur. Tolerance builds tolerance.

It is also possible that some people with different opinions will be intolerant. In these cases, it is possible that differences in opinions will cause conflict rather than debate. The intolerant may force their opinions on others, which in turn is likely to produce a more hostile response. Even a person who is more tolerant will struggle to remain tolerant and respectful if the other person/s persists to be dismissive of his or her opinion. Intolerant behaviour can become contagious. This does not necessarily need to be the case. I discuss this further later in the post.

Reasonable Tolerance vs. Absolute Tolerance

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There is a difference between displaying reasonable tolerance and absolute tolerance. We should be tolerant within reason. This is subjective but there are some clear-cut cases. For example, we should be tolerant of all opinions even if we strongly disagree with them. Everyone has a right to an opinion; a tolerant person would respect that. On the contrary, forced impingement on another person’s freedom should not be tolerated. Tolerance should be used to preserve freedom of expression and speech and not to oppress it. Oppression will only lead to more intolerance.

Should intolerance be tolerated?

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Some people believe in a paradox of tolerance. Karl Popper (influential philosopher) describes the dangers of tolerating intolerance in the following quotation.

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant (Karl Popper).

Rowan Atkinson (British Comedian) had an alternative but partly congruent view to Karl Popper. The following is a quotation taken from his ‘Reform Section 5’ speech.

[Intolerance of the intolerant involves] the replacement of one type of intolerance with another. Which to me does not represent any type of progress at all. Underlying prejudices, injustices, are not addressed by arresting people. They are addressed by issues aired argued and dealt with preferably outside the legal process (Rowan Atkinson).

Both agree that intolerance can be addressed through debate. However, Karl Popper believes there is a limit to the extent tolerance should be offered to the intolerant. Rowan Atkinson advocates further debate.


My View


Should we be intolerant of intolerance? I would argue that depends on the reason for that intolerant behaviour. As explained earlier in the post, intolerance can be justified. If we believe the intolerant behaviour has basis, I would argue that this intolerance should be tolerated.

There is also intolerant behaviour, which has no basis. This intolerance could occur out of ignorance or arrogance. I would argue that it is important to understand why a person might be unnecessarily intolerant. It might be wise to engage with this person to attempt to understand their reasoning for their intolerance.

If intolerance stems from ignorance, we can present an alternative perspective as well as information, which the intolerant person may not have known about. Ignorance can be remedied through knowledge. Not everybody is willing to acquire knowledge or are willing to change their behaviour. This is a personal choice, we have no right to force people to change the way they behaviour. I would also argue that persistent intolerance out of ignorance should eventually no longer be tolerated. We could express our intolerance by distancing ourselves from such people.

If intolerance stems from arrogance, I would argue that presenting information and alternative perspectives is likely to be a waste of time. Arrogant people are hard to reason with because they have already decided they are correct. Remaining tolerant of arrogant intolerant behaviour can create serious problems. Intolerance can spread quickly if the people spreading the intolerance are very influential. This often occurs through social media when influencers villainize a particular point of view and promote intolerance against it. In my post ‘Divided by Labels – Focus on Gender and Sexual Orientation’, I provided the example of how intolerance regarding J.K. Rowling’s opinions about transgender spread across social media. In some cases, intolerance developed into hatred. This type of spreading of intolerance regarding opinions should not be tolerated because it can become dangerous.

Should I be tolerant when someone’s behaviour offends me?

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At some point in your life, you will encounter behaviour that you find offensive. It is important to understand why that behaviour has offended you. For example, you might be offended because you perceive certain actions to be an attack on your personal beliefs. This may or may not be true. It is possible that your perception is wrong. There will always be barriers to communication, which could easily lead to us misunderstanding another person’s intentions. It is worth attempting to clarify what the other person meant. Misinterpretation of communication can usually be cleared up very easily.

It is also possible that your perception has some merit. Another person could be criticizing your beliefs. If you believe very strongly in something, criticism can hurt. You could choose to dismiss the criticism, if you are confident that it is unfounded. You could debate the other person in attempt to support your position. You could investigate the criticism further. It is possible that the other person’s perspective could enrich you. Engaging in meaningful conversation or debate is likely to be beneficial to you and your critic.

It is also possible that another person just wants to hurt your feelings. Maybe they have a grudge against you or lack respect for your beliefs. Even if this is the case, it is still worth understanding why this person has decided to attack you or your beliefs. It is possible to resolve the problem. Engagement and debate, if necessary, can be used to help increase mutual understanding. It is possible that the other person will still not respect you or your beliefs but that is their problem to solve, you have played your part.

Whatever the case may be, if you feel offended, the onus is on you to reach a position where you are no longer offended. This can be done through engagement with the person you perceive as causing the offense or you could simply shrug it off as something not worth being offended about. As we become more tolerant, we are less likely to be in a position where we become offended.

Censorship

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Censorship is a tool often used by the intolerant to block or belittle opposing views and opinions. Censorship also enables the spread of intolerant behaviour, as people may believe that there should be control over what should be considered acceptable opinions, behaviour, and beliefs. Censorship segregates populations based on who controls what information is permissible. Tensions are more likely to occur when these segregated populations meet, which is inevitable in today’s world.

Many would argue that censorship is necessary to prevent the spread of false or possibly malicious opinions and information. Instead, censorship just reinforces the ‘false’ views amongst those that believe them. Removal of censorship will expose what information is false, incredulous and even malicious. Alternatively, the removal of censorship could prove previously believed falsehoods to be true. To have the opportunity to interrogate more information is always good as it provides greater opportunity to learn and understand varying perspectives.

Censorship is rampant on many centrally controlled social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Large social media companies have incentive to censor information that they perceive could negatively affect their revenue streams or their long-term standing. Decentralised social media that stores information on a blockchain can prevent censorship, as a small group of individuals cannot control the flow of information.

Conclusion

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I consider tolerance to be one of the most important qualities a person can possess. I believe tolerance can be achieved across all cultures. Therefore, tolerance can be used to help unite all cultures. Mutual respect and trust is more important than complete agreement. Differences in beliefs, practices, ideas, opinions, and behaviour is good, as we are able to enrich ourselves with more knowledge while at the same gain greater appreciation of alternative perspectives.

A completely tolerant society is unlikely to exist. Freedom of speech gives us all the right to be either tolerant or intolerant. The Intolerant could be influenced to become tolerant through logical debate. However, some intolerant attitudes are likely to remain. To be tolerant of these attitudes is likely to result in an increase in intolerance rather than an eventual elimination of intolerance. Therefore, at some point intolerant attitudes and behaviour should be considered intolerant to preserve as much tolerance as possible.


More posts

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If you want to read any of my other posts, you can click on the links below. These links will lead you to posts containing my collection of works. These 'Collection of Works' posts have been updated to contain links to the Hive versions of my posts.

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