Friday, July 5, 2013

Can tolerance be viewed as a lower form of love?

As may be obvious from my last post, I am very interested in acceptance, which leads me to my next musing: tolerance. I define tolerance as acceptance, though not necessarily agreement. Tolerance is a volatile topic; what we choose and not choose to tolerate largely characterizes us. So how do we define the parameters of our tolerance?

To start this conversation, let's consider toleration's (relatively short) history in Western thought. Locke and later Voltaire, incredulous that King Philip would revoke the Edict of Nantes (a treaty that recognized French Calvinism in a dominant Catholic country), advocated for the separation of religion and state. Locke even wrote an anonymous letter in Latin to the King, saying that it was gentle persuasion, not violence or government intervention, that led to genuine conversion. More importantly, one who possessed wrong beliefs did not deserve a broken body. It was Locke, Voltaire, and other Enlightenment thinkers who viewed the extent of one's tolerance as a sort of litmus test of being a "modern" person.

I would argue that we are very much inheritors of much Enlightenment thought. I think that it is little accident that society asks us to be inclusive to others, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Like these previous Enlightenment thinkers, we want to be perceived as a "modern" person, not blinded by a myopic perspective. But in a post-Enlightenment society, I think we need to consider how far does (or should) our toleration extend. Obviously, if we choose to uphold certain principles, we cannot tolerate everything that comes our way. I think that few people wish to tolerate the more nefarious aspects of our society: rape, abuse, etc. But tolerance can be a slippery slope when our principles may conflict with others. How far do we wish to tolerate others' freedom of speech? Religious fundamentalism? Right to bear arms? The right to marry whomever we choose, irrespective of gender?

To what extent we choose to tolerate others' beliefs and principles is a complicated one that we need to figure out for ourselves. The only "hard and fast" rule I can think of is our toleration towards others. I believe it is possible to look at tolerance as a lower form of love. For me, love can be partially defined as acceptance, though not necessarily agreement. We don't have to agree with every belief, principle, or political statement that comes our way. But we can accept others' humanity, which reaffirms our own. We can view others as human beings of great worth, and respect others' choices to define their "tolerance parameters." In choosing to increase our tolerance levels toward others, I would argue that we increase our capacity to love. 

Photo by RaeAllen.


  1. Yay! It's like we think the same things, but so far you're articulating them much better. I totally agree that tolerance is a lower form of love, and while perhaps the higher form of love would be to share the truth and lead by example, the higher law cannot exist without the lower law. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Thanks Matt! I appreciate it! :)

  3. I appreciate your thoughts on tolerance as I have been pondering this for some time. Due to being an abuse survivor and sometimes helping other survivors, via being a moderator at an online survivors' forum for example, I have met many different stripes of people, from straight to gay to transgender to asexual, as in not choosing to be either gender. I have come to love and be friends with these people through interacting with them. It does not mean I would accept an invitation to say, a gay marriage (to quote Tevye if I bend that far I'll break), but in peoples' struggles in life, to heal and to discuss problems and fears and move forwards, I have found great personal growth in loving and supporting others in their struggles, whatever their views or leanings in life. I can tolerate certain behaviors to a point and I think we all have our own stopping points beyond which we currently cannot go. For me it's the "turn up at a gay marriage" thing, however that's due to my beliefs in God's teachings on the matter and my own personal call. It does not impinge one iota on my capacity to love, laugh and share with others in our healing journeys through life, not from my pov anyways.