The United States gives its citizens wonderful freedoms protected by the Constitution. Some of those freedoms include the right to hold whatever religious and political beliefs you wish, as well as the right to speak freely about them. Yet despite these legal rights, many in America seem to think that only their beliefs should be allowed.
This is where tolerance comes in to play. In order for our nation to function, tolerance is essential. Everyone has the right to believe whatever they want, but they also have the right to disagree with the beliefs of others. However, tolerance prevents them from attacking those who have differing beliefs.
And here’s where the ideal of tolerance frequently gets misunderstood. Tolerance simply means you tolerate the beliefs of those you don’t agree with. You don’t attack someone. You don’t use hate speech against them. Basically, you let them do their thing while you happily go do your thing. Unfortunately, many people seem to think tolerance actually means acceptance.
While tolerance allows you to disagree with others’ beliefs, acceptance doesn’t. If you accept another’s beliefs, you are essentially agreeing with them and saying those beliefs are right. This doesn’t work in a nation with as many different religions, political opinions, and lifestyles as the United States. Many times, those beliefs and lifestyles contradict each other or have irreconcilable differences. In order to accept each of those beliefs and lifestyles, one would have to ignore those contradictions and differences.
When you think “tolerance” means “acceptance” that’s where the problems begin. In order to accept some beliefs, others must become unacceptable. At that point, if you speak about tolerance and believe in practicing it, you have become a hypocrite. After all, if you accept some beliefs and disparage others, that doesn’t follow the “acceptance” definition for tolerance.
But, if you practice true tolerance, you don’t have to become a hypocrite. You can still have strongly held beliefs that don’t coincide with the beliefs of others. You are welcome to disagree with others. If you are tolerant, you are willing to accept that others have different beliefs and opinions, and that they have just as much right to hold those beliefs as you have to hold yours.
The United States is made up of myriad cultures, religions, and political beliefs. True acceptance of all those different groups is an impossible dream simply because of irreconcilable differences. Tolerance, however, is a realistic possibility and the ideal our nation with all of its freedoms was founded upon.
In order for American society to function well, each individual within it must accept what they can and tolerate what they can’t. Anything else in a tolerant nation is unacceptable.
What do you think? Should we strive for tolerance, acceptance, or something else altogether?