The Real Price of Freedom: Tolerance
Being human is hard.
Who am I so wise in the ways of science to come up with that brilliant conclusion? I’m nobody, really. Just someone who attempts to make a living out of observing the human condition as we hurtle through space atop an unremarkable (or remarkable, depending on your point of view) ball of rock with a bit of water and oxygen tossed in, just to break up the monotony. I am recorder and participant, examiner and subject.
“All right,” You may say, feeling somewhat frustrated by my obfuscating answer to the first question. What drove me to my pithy opening statement?
Now you’re miffed because this answer was too direct and implied an unsatisfying circular logic. Or, you smiled and maybe even chuckled to yourself.
And that is precisely my point. We all belong to a single species, yet at times we feel as different from each other as amoebas and elephants. We are complicated creatures who often find it difficult to understand our own reactions to things, let alone someone else’s. Two people can read an article or look at a picture and feel entirely different things. For instance, humor and cleverness on one hand, and hatred and violence on the other.
The attack in France recently showed us these opposing reactions. It’s easy to label the perpetrators of death as monsters, yet while their actions were certainly monstrous, labels won’t escape the harsh reality that they were also human. Emotions we’ve all felt — disgust, rage, persecution, fear, hopelessness — led to humans perpetrating violence on other humans. This isn’t something new either. Humans have waged war on each other throughout history for these very same reasons. Does that make us all monsters?
Some would argue it does. Others would say only those who perform the acts are monsters. Those we might call monsters claim they acted out of courage and self-preservation — noble attributes in most estimations.
“Ridiculous!” You say. “There’s nothing noble about the attack on Charlie Hebdo.” I would agree, yet there are many people in the world who would not. They are just as human as any of the rest of us.
Let’s look back at recent American history, to the abortion clinic bombings of the 1980s. People with Christian ideologies committed arson and murder, all the while in the firm belief they were doing the right thing. Were they any different than the Muslims who killed the people working at Charlie Hebdo? “Those were thirty years ago,” You may argue. “We’ve learned from our mistakes.” Unfortunately, violent attacks against these clinics have continued to happen, even as recently as 2012 and 2013 in Florida, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Dr. George Tiller was murdered in 2009 in Kansas.
We all hold different beliefs. We all feel right in our beliefs. It’s part of the definition of a belief. Where we run into trouble is extending that feeling of “right” to “righteousness” — the loss of tolerance for anything which conflicts with our beliefs. Freedom gives us the ability to feel and believe anything we want to. Freedom also means we must accept and tolerate those who hold beliefs contrary to our own, because, they too have the ability to feel and believe anything they want to.
Acting with violence toward someone else who holds different beliefs than you do is never acceptable. Neither is bullying them or suppressing their views or their ability to be heard. To live in a truly free society, we must all pay the price of tolerance and simply agree to disagree.