I’m Okay; You’re … Not Me

I’m Okay; You’re … Not Me
Easter 12

Any discussion of philosophy must include discussions and reminders about tolerance. Regardless of what you think (and believe), there is someone who disagrees with you. After all,” they” are not you. Even though you may have grown up in the same area, received the same educational opportunities, eaten the same type of food, attended the same religious worship centers, maybe even share the same DNA, you are a unique individual as are “they”.

Any sharing of beliefs, whether by voice, the arts, voting, or actions, is going to lead to encounters with someone who believes and thinks differently. Walking patterns are distinctive and can identify individuals. Thought patterns are as uniquely individual and yet, many elect to let others do their thinking for them. How we integrate with those who think differently says as much about ourselves and our beliefs as anything we do or say. Thought, word, and deed is a mirror of our being.

We live on a planet with a great many other people and, as we have just discussed, those people will not be identical clones, especially in their thinking. Although the available living space on the planet may seem large, mankind actually lives on a rather small portion. In Hong Kong it is estimated that the average individual has about seven meters or about twenty-three square feet of living space. In the USA, two hundred and fifty square feet is considered allowable but that would involve keeping a clean and uncluttered house since a family of four would be living a one thousand square feet. With everyone thinking individually, how do we all get along?

Tolerance is respect for another’s right to express their beliefs while maintaining respect for the person even if you disagree and reject their beliefs. Based upon the edict found in many things such as the Code of Hammurabi as well as both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and most religious writings, tolerance involves developing your own beliefs while letting others do the same. In philosophy there has arisen the paradox of tolerance. The paradox of tolerance arises when a tolerant person holds antagonistic views towards intolerance, and hence is intolerant of it. The tolerant individual would then be, by definition, intolerant of intolerance.

Tolerance itself is a subject that could comprise an entire series. The talking points are many and it is a valid area of exploration. It is primarily, though, a sign of maturity. Think about young children in a nursery setting such as at a day care center. Toddlers are famous for simply taking things from another child. By age three or four, children are expected to ask politely and graciously accept when another does not share. The rejected child usually then finds another toy and maintains a distance from the rejecting child…at least for a few minutes. Children are resilient and delightful in their ability to forgive and forget.

Adults are not as forgiving. Many engage in homophily, a preference for interacting only with those of similar traits. The tolerant person must then decide whether to engage with a dissimilar group or establish a positive relationship with an intolerant member. I often explain tolerance using an ice cream analogy. We do not all like the same type of ice cream. A young student of mine once stated: “It is good we all like difference ice creams because I do not want my sister and brother eating up all the Rocky Road ice cream. They can eat their vanilla and chocolate; I want the Rocky Road!”

Few wars are waged based upon ice cream. Many wars are waged because of intolerance. As mentioned the other day, the United States of America has just begun its 2016 Presidential Election campaign period. To date three candidates have announced their intentions to become the next President of the United States. This means tolerance is now ever present on everyone’s minds with intolerance being preached in local community buildings, restaurants, sidewalks, and television commercials – Any public venue that provides an opportunity for exposure.

How we present our ideas often decides how they will be perceived. One of the better ways to do this follows the format of a Presidential debate held in the 1800’s between two candidates, Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. The format is taught in forensic clubs worldwide and offers a good lesson in idea presentation. The first speaker opens with a great introduction that captures the attention of the listening audience and then succinctly explains his/her main thoughts. Each aspect of this thought is then examined with evidence for this reasoning also succinctly given. When questions are asked, they are answered courteously.

In the Lincoln-Douglas Debate format, the first speaker is known as the affirmative and the second referred to as the Negative. The Negative or conflicting viewpoint also begins with a courteous, attention-getting introduction which is then followed with succinctly stated opposing viewpoints also supported with evidence and reason. Then the Affirmative’s evidence is questioned and the resulting conclusions shown to be faulty. The Affirmative has an opportunity to question the Negative who also courteously answers. In all their speaking, the two presenters never actually face each other but rather the listening audience. Rebuttal speeches are given with the Negative going first. Again reasoning is supported by evidence and then the Affirmative has the last word. All speaking is done in a level voice with personalities kept out of the equation. Scientific and historical fact provide the basis for the discussion.

Intolerance seeps into the election process when personalities become the focus of the debate. This follows another philosophical construct – The Balance Theory. The balance Theory interjects a second negative into the debate format, giving the listener reason to feel overwhelmed and therefore very willing to take the negative side, subconsciously relying on the “strength in Numbers” theory. If introduced by the Affirmative candidate, then it becomes more evidence of the Negative’s wrong-doing or incorrect thinking.

The problem with intolerance is that is encourages following rather than thinking. It relies on emotion and not mental processes. Cults use this as do gangs. Fanatical leaders garner followers because they are…well, followers. Often disenfranchised youth feel alone and these cults and fanatical leaders offer a sense of family. What these young people fail to realize is that family encourages growth and thinking, not absolute allegiance without individual thinking.

The ability to think, to rationalize our actions, and arrive at conclusions is a wonderful gift that we cannot and should not abuse. We cannot discourage others that right. Tolerance is the only way we will survive and thrive as a culture. George Bernard Shaw once said “A man never tells you anything until you contradict him.” When someone contradicts us, we need to respond courteously. Let them speak their mind and then, keeping personalities out of the equation, ask questions to further your understanding. Give them the respect you yourself desire.


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