It has a name, this thing I have been seeing in myself, an intolerance for intolerance. Let’s start by defining what tolerance is: Tolerance is a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.
When I think of tolerance as I observe it, it means that I am okay with a whole host of things, things that make some people, or groups, squirm. Things like homosexuality or Islam or a woman’s right to choose, or even that kid waddling down the street, waddling because his pants are somewhere south of his butt. Why am I okay with these things? Because there is nothing about any of the aforementioned that inherently threatens me. And because I am not afraid, I do not limit myself to heterosexual, [insert your religious preference here], or left-leaning friendships. And because of this, I enjoy the presence of a variety of people who enrich me, who add texture, information and humor to my life. So what if they’re gay or Muslim or Republican? So what.
I am a ‘live and let live’ kind of individual…who votes. And lately, I am feeling a whole lot less tolerant of those intolerant. Herein lies the paradox. Prejudice and bigotry is driving the making of policy…and it’s starting to make me mad. Let’s define what tolerance is not. It is not: creating policy that would marginalize, specific groups of people who do not fit some cultural definition. Or policy that would limit individual rights giving precedence to doctrine over freedom of conscience. It is not enacting laws that would target and silence minorities. It is not creating laws that would penalize women for their very private choices. It’s hard to sit by and tolerate such things.
In our nation’s history, regrettable edicts were somehow allowed to prevail. Intolerance was here from the beginning. In 1732, the founders of the Georgia colony, which was supposed to be a religious haven, drew up a charter that explicitly banned Catholicism. In 1882, our country established the Federal Chinese Exclusion Act which suspended Chinese immigration. In 1883, the Department of Interior declared many Native American rituals to be “offenses” punishable by jail sentences of up to 30 years. And, in 1942, FDR signed an Executive Order establishing “exclusion zones,” which lead to the forced internment of some 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans. So, as our history and current trends reveal, there has always been and always will be a climate that will allow the proposing and passing of horrible legislation—because we tolerate it.