January 6, 2019

A Vocabulary Lesson

the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.  

Does not agree with. Hmmm. The definition of tolerance involves disagreeing. If we all agreed, we would not need tolerance. If we all agreed, we would not need discussion. All matters of controversy would be settled before any conversation began. There would be no debate needed.  But in the real world, we do need tolerance. We also need to continue to disagree and wrestle with ideas.

My day job includes analyzing classic literature, editing student essays, and helping young minds find ways to increase their vocabulary. This year, I also have the privilege of teaching an introductory Debate class. In Debate, more frequently than time allows in my sophomore English class, students are required to look at issues from two opposing points of view.  Debaters think, write and argue using reasonable yet divergent perspectives. How novel.

a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty;
a personal view, attitude or appraisal

By definition, opinions have a filter; they all have a lens. They are fraught with uncertainty and are based on a person's perspective. Opinions are not to be dismissed, but they are to be weighed and considered for what they really are. They are a person's best judgment. They are not factual. Opinions can be meaningful but should not be given the same weight as truth.

observable activity

These observable actions are choices often made as a result of our opinions. Okay, some impulsive people are acting out behaviors that do not seem to be based on any plan or firmly held belief. But for the most part, humans act on what they already believe. This distinction is important because it moves our ideas from our heads outward to our real life decisions. These choices then affect other people.

So many decisions facing our families, communities, churches, states and nation currently necessitate debate. Questions need to be asked. Widely accepted logic should be able to withstand critique. Decisions need to be cross examined. Listening and then deciding is a good process for humans. Once a decision is made for my side, I am still exercising tolerance. This is an important ingredient to protecting free press and a free society.  Making a decision, choosing a behavior or having a firmly held belief does not make me intolerant. I absolutely can disagree with you and still tolerate you. These are not mutually exclusive as the American education system and media has led us to believe.

Most importantly, as I admonish my high school students, it is possible to care about someone and to disagree with them.

I do it everyday.