Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On Disagreement, Tolerance, and Love

There's a Rick Warren quote that I read recently that really struck a chord with me. He said, "Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone's lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don't have to compromise convictions to be compassionate."

I couldn't agree more with this statement. He really hit the nail on the head. This is something I've mentally been trying to articulate for a long time but have not known how to put it into words. I see the cultural lies that Rick Warren is talking about ALL the time. We live in a day and age where, in a very real sense, disagreeing with someone or stating that what they are doing is wrong is denounced as hateful and judgmental. To me, this is absolutely illogical. Some things don't present any moral controversy at all. For instance, I'm quite certain anyone would agree that murder is wrong. As such, I doubt anyone would call me hateful if I, given the opportunity to talk to a murderer, told them that what they had done was wrong. Other areas of life are much more controversial and people entertain a lot of different views about what is right and wrong with respect to them (for instance, about abortion, marriage, and parenting, to name a few things). It is in these and similar areas, and only these areas, that people can't disagree with others on a moral basis without risking being shot down as being hateful or fearful of the differing view. I do not believe that everyone must come to the SAME moral conclusions about these topics--after all, that's why they are so controversial. But I believe there is a lot more room in our society for people to respect others' rights to hold incredibly different views, without claiming that those who disagree are hateful or judgmental. Frankly, that's a victim mentality that doesn't get you anywhere. Moreover, it is immature to assume that others who disagree with you are out to get you simply because they think that what you believe or what you do is wrong.

At the same time, with the rise of political correctness and our ever-increasing cultural obsession with never offending anyone for any reason, American culture has embraced "tolerance" as the one be-all, end-all ideal. My ideas on this have been informed by books I've read on the subject, so this is not all just my own thinking, but here are some opinions I have regarding tolerance.

First, it is considered a terrible thing today to be "intolerant." I honestly think that our society would deem an accusation of intolerance to be one of the worst kinds of insults you could cast on an individual. Intolerance is anathema to a society that never wants to offend anyone--and intolerance, by and large, is equated with hate.

Here's where it breaks down for me, though. Isn't it true that in everyday language, we say we "tolerate" things that we DON'T like--not things that we readily love, endorse, and embrace? It would be weird for me to say, "I tolerate pizza," because I really like pizza. I wouldn't say, "I tolerate my family," because I LOVE them. Intolerance is equated with hate, but we dare not equate tolerance with love. We don't need to "tolerate" things we love, because we love them. In terms of the way we actually use language on a day-to-day basis, saying, "Oh yeah, I tolerate those people/ those views/ her politics/ his lifestyle" actually says to me, "You know, I really don't like or agree with so-and-so at all but I'm going to act ok with it because I don't want to rock the boat." In that sense, tolerating anyone and anything doesn't seem as honorable and desirable as our culture portrays it to be.

I think a lot of people in our society have chosen to tolerate everything but believe nothing. We've lost the willingness to stand up for what we believe is right, because we're scared of the cultural backlash. We've bought into the lie that tolerance, rather than genuine love, is one of the highest ideals we can express. And in so doing, we've really replaced love for our neighbor with tolerating our neighbor. If real love for other people is as powerful as I believe it is, it should be able to withstand a little bit--or a lot--of disagreement! Love doesn't mean never telling someone that they are wrong. Love doesn't mean there are no boundaries, and it doesn't mean "leave your opinions at the front door because they're not welcome inside." Loving others involves a genuine compassion and care for who they are as people, and it should never be traded for a weak, watered-down idea we call tolerance.

But that's just my two cents--feel free to disagree!

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