Originally created 11/23/04

Practice of tolerance can be taken too far



An unfortunate part of getting older is finding out that many of the things we learned as kids are fictional. For example, most of us eventually discover that Santa Claus is not real (sorry if I disappointed anyone) and babies do not come from storks. Some childhood myths, however, are not so easily discarded.

Tolerance is one of those myths for me. Like most other people, I was taught the importance of tolerance at an early age. As my scholastic years progressed, I came to believe tolerance was an integral part of a well-functioning society and a good way of being kind to others.

For me, tolerance was a basic expression of the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have done to you."

Recently, I read an article in the Christian Research Journal that challenged my perception. The study made me think tolerance can be taken too far.

If a random sample were taken, most people would agree with the statement that "all views have equal merit, and none should be considered better than another," or thus tolerated.

There are, however, major discrepancies in this sugar-coated version of tolerance.

Consider this statement: "Underage drinking and drug use are fine because everyone has the right to choose what they want to do."

Few people, if any, would agree with this viewpoint; however, according to the first statement, the second statement has "equal merit" and is just as good as any other opinion on the issue of underage drug and alcohol use. Here, the conflict between the two statements and the contradictory nature of the tolerance philosophy become obvious.

Advocates of tolerance want people to believe that there is no true "right" or "wrong" because all value systems are equal. Yet, how can a person take a stand for his own values if he accepts all other value systems, even ones that he completely disagrees with, as "equal?"

Would it not be illogical for a person who believes that abortion is wrong to recognize someone else's pro-abortion stance as a position just as good as his own? By putting his belief (anti-abortion) and its opposite (pro-abortion) on the same figurative level, he would be devaluing and degrading his own belief and blatantly contradicting himself.

Another flaw of tolerance is that it often transforms into a dangerous form of acceptance. Those who tolerate a certain behavior or ideology usually end up accepting that act or idea as their own. In this way, a person can adopt standards that are adverse to their usual principles.

I am by no means implying that everyone should be completely close-minded and unaccepting of others. Actually, I think just the opposite. We should always show respect to others and listen to what they have to say. On the other hand, it is important for people to know what they believe in and stand up for those beliefs.

When tolerance is taken too far, people forget the second part; standing up for their own beliefs. If someone persuades me to change my mind based upon the merits of their argument, that is one thing. It is completely different, however, for me to arbitrarily accept someone else's view as logically and morally equivalent to mine simply because it exists.

Likewise, it is not wrong for me to think that my view is better than someone else's because, according to my belief system, it is.

Peter Kreeft, of Boston College, put it best when he said, "Be egalitarian (advocating equality for all) regarding persons, be elitist (believing that certain things are superior to others) regarding ideas." In other words, I should treat all people equally, but I also should know that not all ideas are equal.

When examining tolerance, it is important to analyze it in the context of personal principles. Taken too far, tolerance can lead to the acceptance of an incorrect set of values and be detrimental to moral identity. Now, more than ever, I realize that in life, kindness to and respect for others are important, but defining "right" and "wrong" is even more essential.

Josh Woodward, 16, a junior at Lakeside High School.