I’m becoming more and more concerned about the direction people are headed. No, I don’t mean headed in their RVs. I’m talking about what’s become a very rapid decline in the number of folks who are tolerant of others. Intolerance is now the norm. Fewer and fewer people seem willing and actually able to listen and respond to others with civility or even basic politeness. Emily Post might just be rolling in her grave!
Intolerance has become a badge of honor for far too many folks. (Sometimes even me, I’m embarrassed to say.) I think this is because we’re surrounded by intolerance. It’s loud. It’s obnoxious. It is always in your face. It’s like a highly contagious disease. Fewer and fewer people have self-imposed boundaries. There are no filters to what is said or being posted or printed. So, intolerance metastasizes.
The definition of tolerance has changed
Tolerance has been twisted to mean something that is much different from its original definition, as well. It used to mean a willingness to allow the existence of opinions or actions that you do not necessarily agree with. In today’s world, tolerance has been misappropriated to mean more than a willingness to be polite, but rather to applaud and heartily agree with. So, tolerance in our current culture means you must join in and even promote the ideas that do not align with your own beliefs or norms. You cannot just agree to disagree.
We used to be a society of brainstormers or free thinkers – with an emphasis on “free.” Not anymore. I no longer feel comfortable sharing my ideas and opinions as freely as I once did. Why? Because no matter what I say, no matter how politely I state my opinion or present an idea, no matter my reasoning behind the idea, there will be someone – no, actually quite a number of folks – who will rip into my words like a wild beast tears the flesh off its prey. It seems as though we’ve all forgotten that a free discourse of ideas generates even better ideas.
Kindness is no longer valued
True tolerance and kindness are no longer valued. Here’s what I mean. If you and I have a differing opinion, one of us is wrong. And not just wrong, but heinously wrong. Maybe even wicked, depending on the topic. Should I be so bold as to state my personal beliefs (emphasis on personal), I’m immediately made painfully aware that my beliefs are rubbish. What’s more, they are fresh fodder open to cruel public ridicule by people who do not even know me. At all.
I like communication. I’m a writer. I enjoy words. But more and more I find that I’m questioning every single word I write or say aloud. I have no desire to hurt anyone’s feelings. I do not believe I’m always 100 percent right on every topic I take on. But in order for me to learn – in order for all of us to learn – we need to become respectful toward one another again.
If my opinion rubs you the wrong way, I hope you’ll say something. I really do. But I hope you will thoughtfully choose your words. Not to shelter my tender feelings, but to create real discourse. You disagree? Tell me. Then explain your point of view. But don’t insult my intelligence or others’ who may read or overhear your response with a collection of words that may have originated in a fourth-grade restroom. The precious commodity of open communication requires more than a simple knee-jerk reaction. Words matter. Sure, they can hurt another. But name-calling, belittling, or harsh words tend to shut down any intelligent discourse, as well.
What will the world look like for future generations?
I’m not thin-skinned. I couldn’t have survived this long had I let the caustic words of others get to me. No, I’m not thin-skinned, but I’m sad. Really sad. Because I wonder what the world will be like for my grandkids and their children. Will civility be all but lost? Will anyone dare to voice an idea? And will kindness be deemed obsolete? Or will those with the loudest, crudest voices so control the more timid brainstormers that free expression of ideas will be lost forever?
Don’t tell me who’s to blame. Because no one person, illness, or invention could have destroyed the beautiful art of conversation, the open and free exchange of ideas, that we enjoyed in the past. I just would like everyone to listen and/or read carefully. Then think before responding. An intelligent (and helpful) response is a thoughtful expression, a logical and precise way of civilly or kindly rebutting the idea of another.
Holiday gatherings are here. We all have the chance to infuse kindness and respect into our conversations with friends and relatives. Will you agree with everyone’s point of view? Probably not. But I hope you’ll take the time to listen – really listen – to the ideas and opinions that others put forward. And then, after listening respectfully and giving careful thought to how you will respond, I hope you’ll use civil, even kind words as you politely participate in what could be a revival of a great treasure: conversation!