Universities are supposed to be places where different ideas can be exchanged and debated in a rational manner; with tolerance shown to the other side. Is that ideal found on our college campuses?
But before we ask how tolerant the community of students, faculty, and staff at our colleges and universities are, we must first define tolerance. Sounds like something that everyone should already know. But just to set the stage, the Oxford Dictionary defines tolerance as “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”
Does that sound like the kind of tolerance we hear people demanding these days? Do we all even have the same idea of what tolerance looks like? I wonder if someone is really tolerant if they accuse another of being intolerant because they didn’t like what that person said. Does someone sound tolerant if they use words like “hater” or “bigot” against those that have different beliefs than them? Too many people confuse disagreement with hate and call others intolerant.
I have heard numerous people call another person intolerant just because that person disagreed with them about a particular issue. This is usually a knee-jerk response to hearing a dissenting view on an issue that the hearer is emotionally invested in. Excessive emotion in a debate can turn a normally calm person into an irrational, ranting, verbal bomb-thrower.
Some people demanding “tolerance” even go so far as to push for legislation that would punish, through fines or prison, anyone that might disagree with their views or behavior. A sure sign of intolerance is if you threaten someone with jail or violence because they won’t accept your views. Their intolerance for differing viewpoints is evidenced by their attempt to silence the other side. When they can’t get the government to silence the opposition for them, they often turn to the media to push a public backlash against their foe. The most obvious example being the attempts by the homosexual community to damage Chick-Fil-A for its stance on Biblical marriage.
So what happens when somebody speaks up on a college campus on a controversial subject? What reaction would they face from the students and employees there? I believe that as long as the speaker is peaceful and not inciting people to violence, we should let them speak. This has the added benefit of letting us know who the fools are.
My question to the academic community is – how tolerant do you believe your campus is when someone speaks on a sensitive issue? Do you demand tolerance from those that disagree with you but refuse to be tolerant of them? For, too often, those that scream for tolerance the most are the least tolerant among us.
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