If others don’t care what we think, why do they care so much about what we think? It is a bit of a paradox. We live in a world of abundant open mindedness. In fact, we have come to be one of the most tolerant societies ever to inhabit this planet. We find toleration in, or at least choose to overlook, all manner of behaviors that would have put our progenitors on edge. Language, dating, family structures, personal freedoms and restrictions on personal freedoms – each are redefined at a previously unmatched pace.
Many of us take considerable pride in our ethos. We signal our superiority because we live and let live. Good. We signal our superiority because we are the vanguard of the oppressed. Again, good. Still, we struggle mightily with disagreement. Our considerable understanding of differences ends when someone challenges our own impassioned and deeply held views. The battle cry is, “You are fat and stupid. Nobody cares what you think,” along with, “And, if you say it again, I’ll burn down your house!” Somehow, the inconsistency is overlooked. Is there great concern or no interest? It is all very confusing.
We are lucky to live in an age when there are more people and longer stretches of less war than enjoyed by any previous generation. Is this time devoid of opportunity for improvement? Clearly, no. But even if one is inclined to believe that a utopia can be achieved, failing to reach perfection doesn’t necessarily equate with terrible outcomes. Can we learn to be tolerant of people who don’t tolerate like us? Can we tolerate the tolerators?
Civil society, like most institutions today, is being reexamined. Is it a silly veneer of politeness that conceals ill intent? Or is it a philosophy that allows for fervent disagreement without the too-often violence and abuse that follows?