On Tolerance and Disagreement

Can you disagree with someone and still be respectful of their point of view? According to virtually all public discourse right now, the answer is no. But I (respectfully) disagree.

For example, I am a Mormon, and I adhere to Mormon theology. There are beliefs and practices that are considered acceptable in the world at large that I do not agree with morally. For example, I do not think homosexual behavior is morally correct. HOWEVER, I respect the rights of those in the LGBTQ community to live their lives in a manner that makes them happy. I am sympathetic to the plight of minorities in general and the struggle they go through to gain societal acceptance. And I want to do all I can within my own sphere of influence to show compassion and acceptance to everyone, regardless of whether I agree with everything they do.

There's a problem with today's social justice warriors who seek equality and tolerance but are unwilling to tolerate that others hold differing opinions, and therein lies the great hypocrisy of modern society. I am very much in favor of legal rights for everyone regardless of sexual or gender identity. To continue with the previous example, I have no problem with the legality of gay marriage, while I don't condone it on a moral level. But I am afraid to express my views in a public forum because they are mischaracterized as intolerant or bigoted. Some of the people closest to me are part of this community, and I wish them nothing but happiness. While we have fundamental disagreements, I love them and want them to be treated equally, and I wholeheartedly support their rights.

This has ramifications beyond questions of individual morality. The political climate in our nation right now is toxic beyond my ability to express it in words. There are such fundamentally opposed groups now that I sincerely believe that an individual in one party would rather suffer a deadly fall than extend a hand to a member of the other party to be saved. Each party has held positions and made decisions that are bafflingly un-American and very obviously against the common good. It would be nice to see any efforts at all on the part of our leaders to find some modicum of common ground. The purpose of elected officials is to serve and protect the rights of constituents, not to please special interest groups, fan the flames of extremism, and vilify any who belong to a group espousing opposing ideals.

The idea of tolerance is something we all deal with in our lives, whether in the workplace or in our families. We have different ideas. Compromise is often good, but when it's not possible we still need to agree upon a framework to make decisions, understanding that civilization itself is largely based on give and take. Certain behaviors, of course, must be universally condemned where they infringe on the fundamental rights of others or place one group in danger of disenfranchisement (see: virtually the entire history of human civilization). But other questions of moral philosophy and governmental direction are by their nature subjective, and we have to engage in meaningful discourse to progress as a species.

We will likely never change another's mind when it comes to deeply held beliefs. But at least we can each make efforts to understand others, and try to accept them and love them in spite of our differences. It's okay to disagree—even with others who don't feel that disagreeing is an option.


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