Warming Up to the World of Tolerance

Recently I attended a discussion group where people of different views come together and discuss a topic each month. This month’s topic was about the topic of tolerance, and asked if there were things that should not be tolerated. The topic was brought up a scientist who identified as an atheist. She seemed to have a low view of people who hold onto ideas that are opposed by clear scientific evidence.

At one point, she made the following statement:

“You are not entitled to your opinion if it is not based on truth”.

She later said that she came off a little strong with this statement, but for me it provoked several thoughts that I wanted to share with you.

One is that “truth” might not be as obvious as it seems to be in your mind at any one moment. For this women, she was confident that she knew what was true because she found that there was substantial scientific evidence backing up her conclusions. But there very well could be an angle to the issue that she did not consider, or a bias that is causing her to interpret the available evidence incorrectly. Understanding these potential limitations gives you a sense of humility, where you are open to the idea that you may not have all the right answers.

Even if the truth is obvious to you, it won’t necessarily be obvious to others. Many factors could cause people to be confused about what is actually true. For example, people might be unaware of the facts required to form the best conclusion about an issue.

The scientist referred to global warming as one of the obvious truths that people are not entitled to speak against. Her reference to global warming caused me to think about my own experiences with that issue.

Through some college classes I took six years ago, I became aware of observable signs that indicate global warming is happening. On the other hand, I recognize that there are people who say the warming is part of a normal “cycle”, where the Earth gets warmer for a time period, then colder, then warmer, and continuing on. I am not informed enough to understand how much of the warming taking place is due to a standard “cycle”, and how much is due to human activity.

I could blame a few things for my lack of understanding:

    1. My educational background

  • Through High School and College classes, this topic was not taught to an extent where I could fully understand the issues.

    2. My effort

  • Since learning about it six years ago, I haven’t put forth much effort to gain a better understanding of the global warming issue.

    3. My will

  • I am simply not interested enough in the topic of global warming to look deep into the evidence and arguments out there.

These factors don’t only apply to me in relation to global warming. They can apply to you and anyone else in relation to various topics. You may be well informed and have a great interest in a specific area (i.e. religion, science, politics). But that does not mean that everyone else has that same knowledge and passion.

So how do you respond to people who just “don’t get it” – don’t grasp a concept that you care about? It comes down to the Christian principal of having grace in conversations. Not turning down people because they have a lesser understanding than you about a particular topic. But instead, listening to them, recognizing when they are confused about an issue, and sharing the knowledge you have with them so that they can have a better grasp of the issue at hand.

And even if they still “don’t get it”, understand that you are still talking to a person worthy of your attention and respect. That’s what tolerance is truly about – respecting a person even if you disagree with them and even if you think you know more than them. The scientist’s “cold” statement above likely came from a lack of tolerance for people who are not as well informed as her on certain issues.

For her, I would suggest a “warming up” – continuing to draw the best conclusions based on the evidence available, while also accepting that people may draw different conclusions due to their educational background, effort, or will. This perspective would at least warm her up to having tolerance for people who seem to deny the cold, hard facts.

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