I’d like to start by asking a question. Is society a collection of individuals, or a communal space in which people are connected to each other? Take a minute to think. Why is this an important question? Well, the reason I ask is because I’d like to spend the remainder of this article talking about tolerance, what it means to me to be tolerant and where perhaps at times, we lose sight of what tolerance is. To me, tolerance is a respectful position, not necessarily a position of agreement: this is an important distinction.
In the 21st century Britain has branded itself as a nation of tolerance and this is a wonderful thing. However, in a valiant and understandable attempt to preach tolerance, we may actually be intolerant of intolerance. Sometimes we say things like, anybody who thinks (insert unacceptable behaviour here) should be ashamed of themselves. In my opinion, when we say things like this we are simply changing the type of behaviour we are being tolerant of. We aren’t practicing tolerance we are moving the goal posts.
Now you may be thinking that some behaviours are simply appalling and depending on the behaviour you are talking about, I might be inclined to agree with you. Unfortunately that isn’t really the point. The point is that putting people into boxes and labelling them is same behaviour we were so upset with in the first instance. Following this box, is usually the demonization that many of us have become so appalled with. This is how a select few minor cases quickly become the rule and not the exception.
It is important to provide some clarity before I go any further. I am not saying that disagreeing with actions is intolerant. I am saying that reverse prejudice doesn’t really achieve anything. Therefore it is important to think about how approach behaviours once we have come to the conclusion of disagreement. Personally, I think the best way forward is understanding. It is impossible to connect with people we have nothing in common with. However, we always have something to connect with, our humanity. As a result, I think it is important that we try and understand each other and talk out our difference rather than the much easier route of labelling and demonization.
To finish, I think it is extremely important that we try and understand those who we feel have wronged us or are intolerant because if we don’t, we become part of the problem we felt so passionately about resolving. In my opinion society is not a collection of individuals: it is an interconnected space of people. As a result, we should try and help each other, not demonize each other. This is so hard to do but the right things usually are.
By Alex Richards