Someone told me the other day that I was being intolerant by voicing a certain opinion. I had to do the equivalent of a "double-take" with what I had just heard.
I asked her if she really valued "tolerance." Of course, she said yes. My next question was not met pleasantly. I asked, "Do you realize that you are being intolerant of my view by telling me that?"
It then occurred to me that "tolerance" can only be performed, but never voiced. When "tolerance" is articulated, it is hypocritical. The "tolerant" person is being intolerant of the person he is claiming is "intolerant". It can be easily demonstrated by showing that the intolerance is actually implicit in the accusation. The "tolerant" person may defend his statement by claiming that it is an observation- making it okay. At that point, I would agree that an observation by itself does not completely destroy his tolerance. However, if he mentions it, he is demonstrating that he is being intolerant of the other person's intolerance. The articulation of "tolerance" defeats its own definition.
Let's take it to another level. "Tolerance" can only exist if one person believes that they are right, while believing that another person is wrong. "Tolerance" comes into play when the person who believes they are right, chooses to never allow the other person to know of his disagreement- which allows the two to live in perfect harmony (with the caveat that the tolerance must be two-way). Funny thing- the person who accused me of being "intolerant" is actually a relativist- who is supposed to not believe that anyone is right or wrong- "tolerance" should not even be a word in her vocabulary! But, I digress...
No two humans agree on every concept and even the ones they think that they do agree on, their concepts are not precisely alike; as more detail is articulated, more disagreements will be discovered. Humans communicate via the senses and decode the communication via the brain. The mind perceives the information provided by the communication and make conclusions about the other person's concepts. If those conclusions are different from those of the perceiver, the feeling of discomfort will arise (it has many different levels). This feeling of discomfort is confirmation that the perceiver believes that he is right, while the other is wrong. This feeling, of course, can lead to other feelings (say, of confusion or irritation), and may further lead to other thoughts and verbal communication (could be constructive or deconstructive), but I won't get into those now.
"Tolerance" is "knowing" that you are right, while "knowing" the other is wrong, yet not acting in any way that could cause a ripple in the relationship between the two of you. Speaking of the disagreement is an action that can cause a ripple. Displaying body language consistent with your discomfort, may cause a ripple. By doing so, the person who "knows" they are right, is displaying their intolerance of the other to the other. As humans, they cannot escape communicating something when they perceive something else. To be truly "tolerant," one must never communicate anything and/or perceive anything. In short, humans are incapable of being completely tolerant of any other human. Complete tolerance can only be a property of inanimate objects.
Now, after having said all that, (for those who are not relativists) "tolerance" is a noble idea and a noble behavior. We should do our best to be as tolerant as we can be. The quickest way to fail at this task is to say that you are tolerant then turn around and accuse someone else being intolerant.
Greg Koukl talks about the intolerance of tolerance in this short video:
For more information:
Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air- by Greg Koukl and Frank Beckwith
A World of Difference: Kenneth Samples (Kindle Version)
Stand to Reason