Every day I pass a sign: “30; No Tolerance!”
In the midst of a culture that is rewriting every taboo, there is a fading street sign, grandfathered in. Our culture once knew that taboos were useful. They were boundaries that held society together. But now we tolerate everything, and the only taboo is to enforce taboos.
The street sign is near an elementary school; it enforces a strict speed limit: “30; No Tolerance!” It is a reminder that, in a culture that exalts tolerance as its chief virtue, some part of us still knows certain behaviors are unacceptable—especially those that endanger the innocents. We protect our children—we enforce strict speed limits—because tolerance is not ultimate. Love is.
Tolerance, as it is most commonly practiced today, can be defined as ignoring those who break your personal or religious taboos. But do we really want a society who’s chief aim is amicable coexistence?
I think a better virtue is empathy. Empathy is seeking to understand those who break your personal or religious taboos. This goes far beyond tolerance, for it invites us into dialogue and relationship.
An even better virtue is love. Love is commitment to the good of those who break your personal or religious taboos. Of course, love cannot be practiced without some degree of tolerance and empathy—it is built upon both. But it also transcends them. Love seeks understanding but it is also willing to offer compassionate rebuke, especially when boundaries are necessary for the protection of the individual or society—particularly when the boundaries protect innocents.
Parents do not tolerate their children; they love them. Neither do brothers tolerate one another. Parents love, and so they establish and enforce taboos. Our society must decide, then, whether our chief aim is to be amicably coexisting individuals who tolerate one another, or whether we aim to be an empathetic family that seeks understanding and love. The latter cannot be achieved so long as tolerance is our chief virtue, because love is always intrusive—it always impinges on the other. Indeed, it cares too much not to.
(Postscript. Of course, not every rebuke is empathetic or loving. But misuse does not disqualify proper use. We should aim to be more loving in our corrections, rather than to stop them altogether. The latter does not allow for growth, whether personal or societal. It assumes that this—the least parented generation in history—should be left to follow their own whims and desires, free from all taboos and corrections. Is that really what we want?)