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Esolen: tolerance is a two-way street

September 21, 2012

Anthony Esolen writes for The Public Discourse that tolerance requires a mutual understanding: the person whose behavior is being tolerated should realize that his behavior is not being endorsed.

"When we tolerate we bear with someone or something," Esolen explains. We find someone's behavior offensive (otherwise there would be no call for tolerance), but for various reasons decide not to take action. Esolen gives the example of a neighbor living in adultery:

No matter whether my tolerance in this case is prudent or only timid, it demands reciprocity from my neighbor. He will refrain from bringing the new woman to my house, to meet my wife and children. He will refrain from lounging with her in his front yard, in affectionate embrace. He will refrain from publicizing the adultery. He will certainly not celebrate it.

Today, Esolen points out, the champions of "tolerance" are asking for something quite different. They ask that their behavior be accepted as normal, even promoted as virtuous. Their attitude, he says, is actually an offense against tolerance.


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