Discussion: What is Tolerance?

This is a summary version of my last post, plus thoughts for a serious discussion on what ‘tolerance’ really is. I would really ask that people try to look at this ‘proposed definition of tolerance’ and criticize the heck out of it. However, remember the primary rule of rationality. Rationality is to advance a counter explanation, not to shoot holes in someone else’s.

Legal Tolerance is More Important Than “Everyday Tolerance”

When we speak of ‘tolerance’ there are really two kinds or degrees. The first is the more important: we must never make laws (or break laws) to force people to believe in ways we prefer. This is the single most important aspect of tolerance. [1] This form of ‘intolerance’ is therefore about violence or threat of violence, either in the illegal or legal variety.

Everyday Tolerance: Being Respectful in Disagreements

But legal tolerance is not what we generally mean when we speak of tolerance. If it was, then skin-heads that don’t break the law would be as tolerant as anyone else. So I would suggest that when we speak of “tolerance” we generally mean civility in non-violent conflict. This being the case, then I suggest the following “rules of tolerant behavior” for your consideration:

  • Tolerance Does Not Mock Other People’s Beliefs
  • Tolerance Does Not Misrepresent, Lie, of be Deceptive about Other People’s Beliefs
  • Tolerance is Being Respectful and Civil in Your Communication to People of Another Belief
  • Tolerance Does Not Use Stereotypes
  • Tolerance Allows People to State their Own Beliefs; It Does Not State it For Them
  • Tolerance Does Not Use Dual Standards

See my previous post for more detail on each of these.

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Political Correctness as a Gospel Principle

This is another reprint from Mormon Matters. For those of you that bristle at the very mention of “Political Correctness” please don’t make the mistake of assuming you know what I am referring to without reading the article. This article is advocating a well defined form of political correctness in use of language (particularly with gender) and seeks hard limits to political correctness, namely that you have to still say what you mean and mean what you say, even if it hurts someone’s feelings.

When I started attending school at BYU, political correctness was still recently taking hold in American culture. In high school my English teacher, Mrs. Summers, specifically taught us that if the gender was unknown, we were to use “he” or “his” as the pronoun as these signified both genders. For example:

“Each student in the class opened his book to the page specified.”

And back then we spoke of mailmen, chairmen, policemen, garbage men, etc. A person with a below average IQ was “mentally retarded” and someone that was overweight was “fat.” It was just the way things were.

Old habits die hard.

My initial introduction to politically correct English were somewhat negative. For example, I remember reading an Editorial in The Daily Universe talking about how horrible politically correct English was with all its meaning deficient words like: “horizontally challenged,” “special,” and “mail person.”

My view changed when I took a Technical Writing course from a self proclaimed “radical feminist.” I remember her being very quirky and often hypocritical; and I have my doubts about many of the technical writing principles she taught. But she did an incredible job of explaining the need to avoid “gender biased language” and by extension sold me on political correctness.

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