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In Our Push For Tolerance, We Have Lost Compassion

MalevolentSpockApr 13, 2018, 2:54:28 AM

Words have power, and specifically, “tolerance” is one that has become powerful in our culture over my lifetime. We are urged to show tolerance for people who are different or have different beliefs. Parents are trained to be tolerant of their children.

What is interesting about this shift toward tolerance is how literally our culture has consumed the concept.

The definition of “tolerate” according to Google dictionary is:

Allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of something (that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.

Encouraging tolerance presupposes disagreement and irritation. Keeping that in mind, does, “be tolerant of your children,” or “show tolerance to other races,” seem like a compassionate message?

It has been two generations since Dr. Spock initiated changes to modern child rearing. Tolerance was key to these changes, and at face value, many of the accepted “best practices” have very positive effects on children. It is important though to recognize that there have been dramatic increases in adolescent drug use, teenage pregnancy, single parenting, and divorce rates during this same period. I believe that much of this suffering is due to our culture’s shift to a morality that defines conflict and offense as intolerance and abuse.

Today, in most households parents focus on giving children happy childhoods rather than their main parental responsibility, to raise successful adults. Children’s behaviors are tolerated while video games are a distraction to discourage engagement and bad behavior. They are sent to public schools as daycare, to be tolerated by teachers, and are diagnosed and drugged for non-compliance. This is not to say that teachers are bad, or parents don’t love their children. Any teacher or parent who is not tolerant faces the likelihood of being sued or losing their children. It has become immoral for parents or teachers to hold expectations of children and to support those expectations with serious consequences. Meanwhile, without experiencing adversity, and recognizing that love can exist within a conflict, children cannot learn empathy, compassion or how to handle conflict.

In the late 1990s, “racial tolerance” became the primary message on racism. Just a few years before that the Wayans brothers’ “In Living Color”, “The Cosby Show” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” were the top-rated television shows, and everyone wanted to “be like Mike.” Racism was not wiped out by any means, but headway was being made toward civil integration of cultures in visible and measurable ways.

Since then, we have moved into a period of extreme racial tension. People today don’t understand how to handle conflict, resulting in rioting, looting, assault, and murder, even though all this time we have been told to be tolerant. In other words, disagree and be irritated, but shut-up.

Tolerance is contrary to human nature. The very concept of tolerance is similar to incarceration to the human mind, but learning to handle conflict with compassion is possible. It is becoming more and more widely accepted that compassion is both a learned and an innate trait. This means that while compassion may be in our DNA, it can be learned, reinforced, or subjugated. The push toward tolerance in our culture has set up a mindset that we should be offended by one another rather than being understanding and appreciative of our differences and talking through conflict. I believe it’s time to change our culture.