Go read Tolerance Has Never Come Naturally – Washington Post.com (Free registration required). It’s easily one of the best essays I’ve read on the concept of tolerance, a popular word that is often used by people who understand it the least, and what it means to be tolerant (or the opposite, intolerant). The article touches briefly on everything from acitivist judges to the current debate over gay marriage.
Progressive individuals and progressive societies are not those that wait for some elusive golden age in which prejudice and fear magically dissolve before embracing change. Rather they are those who, though bedeviled by uncertainty and distrust, act out of fundamental convictions of fairness and justice, and the confidence that their misgivings will, in time, dissolve with familiarity. Tolerance acts first, in the knowledge that actions change attitudes, not the reverse. More than a century and a half ago, the English essayist William Hazlitt, in a work entitled “On the Pleasure of Hating,” noted that “We learn to curb our will and keep our overt actions within the bounds of humanity, long before we can subdue our sentiments and imaginations to the same mild tone. We give up the external demonstration, the brute violence, but cannot part with the essence or principle of hostility.”
The path of progress is pocked with the heel marks of the reluctant. There have always been those who say, “We’re not yet ready.” Either they underestimate the power of adaptability or they fear its power to expose the fallacy of their objections. A year ago, gay civil unions were highly controversial. Today many Americans view civil union as the moderate position. The ability to withstand differences increases with exposure to them. (That is another meaning of “tolerance,” the body’s ability to adapt to and withstand increasing doses of a foreign substance.)
Legal remedies coerce the hands but not the heart. Some may never wish to break bread with those whose conduct, though lawful, they find loathsome, whose beliefs they find heretical, whose message they think traitorous. And yet they are called upon to suffer them because that is who we are as a nation—not a people bereft of private values but a people enriched by a stubborn willingness to endure each other. “Toleration is not merely a generous byproduct of the American system: it is its essential principle, ” wrote Walter Lippmann.
Good stuff well worth the registration to read it. There’s more than a few people on both sides of the debate here on SEB that could do with checking it out and considering what it says.