Tag Archives: tolerance

Real Tolerance: Understanding vs. Conversion

A couple weeks ago I, while on a flight to Washington DC, found myself in conversation with a guy who makes documentaries for a living.

It started out as a chat about camera lenses and moved quickly into a discussion on his favorite topic, global warming. Something about the early bits of our talk must have put him at ease because he started to REALLY go off on the COMPLETE stupidity of conservatives. I told him I thought the trouble was that as a society we were becoming so polarized that it was becoming less and less possible to have rational dialogue.

He nodded in agreement then shared with stunned amazement the example of a friend of his from college, someone he had sheared life with, been in a band with, gotten drunk with who had become a university professor, adopted a conservative perspective and, in his words, become an idiot. When he finally cycled back to global warming I took a risk.

“You know”, I said, “I actually come from more of a conservative perspective myself. I don’t disagree with your evidence of ice caps melting or temperatures rising but what is missing for me is proof of causality. If it really the humans fault then we should see some correlation between temperature change and population growth coupled with industrialization. I just haven’t seen that piece.”

He launched…

Him: “Well, do you believe in science?”
Me: “Yeah, I was a science major in college. I believe in the scientific method and the repeatability of results, sure.”
Him: “No, I mean to you believe in evolution?”
Me: “No, I’m more of a creation guy.”
Him: “Pfft, so you think the earth was created in just seven days?!?”
Me: “Not necessarily, Genesis says, ‘there was morning and there was evening, the first day’, in Kansas that is 24 hours. In northern Alaska that is a year. I’m open to the idea that the Genesis days could be time periods and any length.”

I must have passed some sort of entrance exam at that point because he began to share his views on global warming in an animated but not antagonistic manner. When we got to the key point on human causality, after careful previous argument, decently justified statistics, and seemingly rational assessment of potential results, he said, “It has to be humans, there is no other answer.”

Really? That’s all you got? It HAS to be?

Of course I didn’t say that out loud. We finished the conversation amicably, even swapped contact information and went our separate ways as long flight seatmates seemingly always do.

So what just happened there, in my opinion, was a small example of a contrast of goals.

My goal in the conversation was understanding. I wanted to both clarify my position, (not all conservatives are stupid and we need to be able to dialogue), and understand his, (conservatives are stupid particularly when it comes to global warming). His goal in the conversation was conversion. He wanted to prove to an idiot conservative that they were wrong and he was right. In doing so he stereotyped me, made assumptions, and he ascribed motive. All included in the no-no list I posted last week.

As a result of that conversation a couple of truths about tolerance became newly clear to me:

1. True tolerance is about wide goals, not narrow goals.
As I said last week tolerance begins from a point of disagreement. Thus the widest goal under the heading of tolerance is understanding. But too often the conversation narrows to conversion, then narrows still further to debate when conversion seems to be failing. This is where the hate speech starts to come in to play.

2. True tolerance is about compromise, not all or nothing.
Too often cries for “tolerance” are really just masks for pushing forward a particular agenda. You can tell this by the narrowness of goals and the speed with which the conversation turns to claims of hatred. There will ALWAYS be points of disagreement. You can choose to focus the conversation there, narrow goal, or work to find points of compromised agreement, wide goal.

The recent hoopla between the LGBT community and chicken eating conservative Christians has highlighted the fact that these two camps hold COMPLETELY different view of life, the world, and everything. There are obviously, without doubt, narrowly focused sub groups on either side of the debate, but even in THIS instance there are points of tolerant compromise that can be found. We just need to be willing to find points of agreed upon compromise through tolerant dialogue.

What is it like when you find yourself in a truly tolerant dialogue?

 

 

 

Five Guidelines for Having Tolerant Conversations

A number of years ago I had a set of Mormon missionaries show up at my door. As an evangelical Christian pastor I probably wasn’t going to be the easiest conversation that they had in the neighborhood.

I told the guys that we could have a conversation but that we needed to agree to a couple of caveats first.

1. We needed to agree we were both seeking to serve God as best we could.
2. We needed to agree that we were not both right.
3. We needed to agree that we were going to focus on the first agreement rather than the second.

You see if we focused on the second agreement then the conversation would center on trying to prove each other wrong, a debate. But if we focused on the first agreement then we’d be focusing on trying to reach a mutual understanding of what it meant to serve God.

We engaged in an ongoing conversation over about three months. In the end we parted as friends each with a deeper understanding of the others position but neither of us having “budged”.

That experience helped me learn a couple things about what it means to have a “tolerance” conversation. I’d like to share five guidelines for having conversations between folks of disparate points of view.

1. You have to understand that tolerance means disagreement.

You don’t “tolerate” things, people, or positions with which you agree. That means if you’re going to enter into conversations that are categorized as being “tolerant” they will be with people that hold a position that is opposed to yours. That being said you have to determine if your goal in the conversation is to “convert” someone to your point of view, or to help each other reach a deeper level of understanding.

2. You have to hold stereotypes at bay.

It’s easy to label someone based on stereotypes. Imagine a conversation between someone who has been labeled as a “conservative christian” and someone described as a “liberal democrat”. Each of those descriptions carry with them enough baggage to incur more charges than a transatlantic airline ticket.

If you try to have a conversation through the lenses of stereotypes you wind up ascribing meaning to words that may not be intended. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to completely ignore or erase stereotypes. Recognizing that they’re there and may be at play is important in creating an atmosphere of understanding. Holding off stereotypes is critical.

3. You have to avoid “always” and “never”

Absolutes are not only grandiose but they very rarely accurately apply. It’s easy to say to someone  “You people always…” or “You just never…” That type of statement not only creates a blanket label but it also invokes stereotypes. The truth is that you never know if someone “always” or “never” because you aren’t always around them, so let the absolutes go.

4. You cannot ascribe motive

This one is huge and is, perhaps, the biggest challenge. It is easy to accuse someone of “hating”, which is an internal motive, because you interpret their external actions through your own set of experiences.

By way of example: if I make the statement that I am not sure where I stand on the issue of same sex marriage, I know conservative Christians who would react by saying that I am backsliding and abandoning biblical truth. At the same time there would be those in the LGBT community who would quickly label me as one of those Christian haters. In either case they’d be wrong specifically because they’d be ascribing motive to my words.

Unfortunately the issue is far more complex than whether or not to allow two people to be defined as a married couple but if you jump straight to ascribing motive to my words then there is no opportunity to engage in the kind of deeper dialogue that fosters understanding.

5. You have to decide what will be and acceptable outcome to the conversation

This is where we come full circle. Remember that the starting point was disagreement, hence the need for tolerance. If the only acceptable outcome for the conversation is converting someone to your point of view then the risk is high for the conversation to break down at some point. If instead the goal is to reach deeper mutual understanding then the chances for good conversation are greatly increased.

We hold the right to freedom of speech as a core right for people everywhere. Given that people will express their opinions, and given that those opinions are becoming increasingly polarized these days, you can either choose to have good conversations with fewer people accompanied by more arguments, or learn to converse with the folks that require you to be “tolerant”. Which will you choose?

What are some examples of good “tolerant” conversation you’ve had?

Chick-fil-A and the Silliness of “Tolerance”

If you have your finger on the pulse on social news lately you’re no doubt aware the those mean and nasty homophobic people at Chick-fil-A have been at it again.

It seems that President Dan Cathy was being interviewed on a radio show, probably sitting in his backyard in shirt sleeves just shooting the breeze. While discussing fatherhood Cathy commented that he supported the Biblical view of marriage being between a man and a woman and further stated, “I think we are inviting God’s judgement on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes marriage’.”

No surprises there. The Cathy’s are well known and outspoken about having founded and continuing to run their company on Christian principles. You’d think it would be more of a surprise if Dan had said anything different.

Apparently though the “tolerance minded” mayors of both Boston and Chicago have taken it upon themselves to be quite intolerant of Dan’s position.

It seems now that in Chicago at least the claim by the city government is that Chick-fil-A’s values are “not reflective of their (our) city” and both cities are telling Chick-fil-A that at a minimum they don’t want them doing business there and at a maximum they will actively try to block them from expanding there.

And here’s the silly part…they’ll block them because they claim Chick-fil-A is intolerant!!! I should note that “silly” was not my first choice for word or phrase there but I wanted the post to stay away from profanity so I chose to go with it.

I wonder if the mayors of Chicago and Boston are also ready to condemn and kick out the Catholic church from within their city limits. Will they stop the Salvation Army from ringing bells at Christmas too? Will the Chicago city government go after Moody Bible Institute as well and give them the boot? All of these organizations share a similar perspective on marriage.

Truth is they probably won’t because, after all, their stance is not consistent, like Chick-fil-A’s is, it is political.

I love the fact that the ACLU has come out in defense of Chick-fil-A on this one. While they don’t in any way agree with Cathy’s position they do defend his right to have an opinion, and to openly speak it, without fear of being prejudiced against. Interesting twist there eh? Good on ’em though for being consistent!

According to Webster’s:
TOLERANCE: Willingness to recognize and respect the beliefs or practices of others.

So let’s be clear. Dan Cathy did NOT disrespect the beliefs or practices of the LGBT community. He simply commented that he didn’t think it was wise to disagree with God regarding marriage.

On the other hand Dan’s beliefs and practices have ABSOLUTELY been disrespected. and there are really only two responses that anyone who wants to defend that kind of attitude can make:

“Yeah, well I don’t care he’s bad.”
or
“Those beliefs aren’t worth respecting.

Both quite intolerant statements.

So what can we learn from Dan’s faux pas?

1. The “Tolerance” movement has ceased being about tolerance and its adherents have started more openly arguing that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a bigot. Which is quite bigoted really.

2. The person with the biggest microphone usually wins so be careful what you say in public. For those keeping score at home conservatives in general have smaller microphones these days.

3. The Christian perspective, while once mainstream in this country, is no longer even remotely fashionable and is leaning towards becoming quite unfashionable. That means Cristian folks don’t enjoy the same freedom of receptivity they once did. Get used to it and adjust.

Kudos to Dan for staying consistent. Kudos the the ACLU…never thought I’d say that…for doing likewise. Silly laughter in the direction of the mayors of Chicago and Boston while they publicly display their cranial rectal impaction.

Just to be clear I am not now, nor have I ever been a Chick-fil-A employee. (Although several attempts have been made.) I have, however, worked pretty extensively with CfA people and have found them to be excellent folks across the board. Believe me when I say they are not prejudiced, they’ll sell chicken to anyone!

All of this leads me to this question:
In today’s increasingly polarized political climate is true tolerance even possible?

No, I’m NOT “Tolerant”, and Here’s Why.

Did that get your attention? Why? What are you expecting will come next? A rant perhaps?

Hmmm…maybe I should confess that I belong to the demographic group that is stereotypically characterized as the least tolerant of all: Middle aged, white, upper middle class, probably in the 1%, male, registered republican,Christian. If you didn’t already know that you’re now probably tempted to stop reading. 🙂 Chicken.

For me the notion of tolerance is silly really, dangerously silly. You see most calls for tolerance have somewhere in their roots the notion that we shouldn’t label people. But then as soon as the conversation moves from a mere word to a sentence the labels begin to fly.

  • I must be tolerant of Blacks and Hispanics and people of middle eastern or oriental descent.
  • I must be tolerant of Muslims and Atheists and anyone who doesn’t espouse Christianity.
  • I must be tolerant of homosexuals and bisexuals and extra-marital-sexuals.
  • I must be tolerant of the disabled and the disenfranchised and the dissatisfied.

Of course because of my demographic grouping I am readily accused being:

  • As regards race, bigoted
  • As regards religion, elitist
  • As regards sexuality, homophobic
  • As regards social justice or global warming or the plight of the poor or affordable medical coverage, ignorant

Labels, labels, labels.

And that is the dangerously silly part. All the things I am expected to be “tolerant of” are labels. So in effect the “tolerant” camp is asking me to not label people and accept them for their label. Which conveniently allows me to completely ignore them as a person and focus on the label!

I’ll tell you straight out I will never be “tolerant” of anyone because of some specific label.

In the same way that it is a shameful thing for me to label someone and thus dismiss them it is equally shameful for me to have to accept anyone because of a label. What’s really comical is how often folks who want to play to tolerance card also, at the same time, want to play the “treat me like everyone else” card.

Yes, I confess, I have made jokes about peoples race, religion, sexual orientation, and  even physical handicaps. In EVERY case those were people with whom I had great relationships.  There was no hurt intended and none taken. They shot right back and we both laughed.

But if I were to put those words into print I’d be accused of being all those labels listed above.

And that is where tolerance moves from silly to dangerous when people start getting up in arms and offended “on behalf of” someone else. Just a show of hands, who got uncomfortable when I said I joked about someones sexual orientation or physical handicap? You see unless you understand the relational context you have no excuse for being offended “on behalf of” someone else. Relationship trumps label every time.

Focusing on diversity and tolerance is a focus on what makes us different and potentially separates us. Focusing on relationship is a focus on what pulls us together and labels get in the way of relationship.

So don’t ask me to be “tolerant” or to “co-exist” for the sake of all the labels you have on your bumper sticker. Ask me instead to sit down for a beer, some decent music and some intelligent dialogue and I’m there every time.

 

As an American doing business in Europe I get labeled. As a Christian performing in local community theater I get labeled. How about you?