Tolerance: what are the limits that define it

Tolerance is the respect for the ideas, beliefs or practices of others when they are different or contrary to one’s own, according to the Royal Spanish Academy. It is considered a fundamental value for freedom, democracy and healthy social coexistence.

But, Is it convenient to respect all ideas, beliefs or practices even when they put democracy and social peace at risk?

What are the limits of tolerance?

To tolerate means to respect, dialogue and work to find meeting points between diversity that favor collective well-being and peaceful coexistence. It does not imply resignation or renunciation of one’s own ideas, beliefs or practicesNor is the imposition of these on those who think differently. Much less does it mean disinterest and neglect in situations of injustice because we would become accomplices of crimes.

According to the Spanish philosopher Victoria Camps, tolerance “is the virtue par excellence of democracy.” This virtue has two perspectives, one moral and the other political. Moral virtue means that being tolerant is accepting the opinions, beliefs and practices of others even when they are different from our own. As a political virtue it refers to the acceptance of plurality, thanks to which democratic societies maintain their systems of coexistence.

The first limit of tolerance is that individual freedom and human rights are not violated. If freedom and rights are restricted, imposition dominates over respect and coexistence becomes fragile. Radical positions emerge, contrary to tolerance. They are positions that seek to force others to assume, without the possibility of discussion, their ideas as the only valid ones to achieve the common good.

Tolerance must prevail before

  • Ethnic, political, ideological, cultural, religious, sexual and economic differences.
  • Opinions other than ours, those that are not to our liking or do not interest us.

Tolerance must establish limits, within the framework of the law, before

  • Murder, sexual abuse, human trafficking and human organ trafficking.
  • Labor exploitation and slavery.
  • Terrorism, arms and drug trafficking, torture and kidnapping.
  • Corruption and destruction of the environment.
  • Racism and xenophobia.

Do not tolerate the intolerant

The danger of allowing too much is always latent. The history of mankind is full of atrocities that perhaps could have been avoided with less permissiveness and passivity in the face of behaviors that promoted intolerance.

Not tolerating the intolerant is the paradox of tolerance, according the philosopher Karl Popper. In his book “The Open Society and Its Enemies” (1945) he stated that “unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance.”

In the text written during World War II, Popper warned the danger of extending tolerance without limits to those who are intolerant. If the open society is not prepared to defend itself against the abuse of the intolerant, tolerant people and tolerance end up destroyed.

Popper defended, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. To demand that any movement that preaches intolerance is outside the law. This is not to say that those with intolerant or anti-democratic philosophical views should be silenced. According to Popper, society must try to counter these ideas and the movements that promote them through rational argument and public debate. The prohibition would be necessary, even by force, when these movements no longer want to impose themselves with rational arguments, but with the use of violence.

The practice of both individual and collective tolerance is not easy, especially nowadays when extremisms seem to gain ground.

Needed the protection of the law to prevent a single vision of the world from being imposed and dictatorships and totalitarianisms from entering. A plural society must fight not to allow for the denial of the values ​​of others. But he must try by all means that legality and dialogue prevail rather than fight the intolerant with intolerance and violence. The latter would only lead to generating more intolerance and resentment, an undesirable situation because it would mean violating democratic coexistence.

Positive tolerance and negative tolerance

Tolerance has a positive and a negative meaning. In a positive sense, it opposes the exclusion of what is different, to the rejection of others for racial, ideological or religious reasons.

This opposition is translated into action, because a tolerant society in a positive sense acts to neutralize promotion and attitudes of intolerance. It is not inhibited when the life of an individual is in danger, which can be his own life, or that of others.

Within the positive dimension, it is expressed in the effort to recognize differences and understand them. It is a recognition of the right of the other to be different, it is to give value to equality and the freedom to express differences.

Positive tolerance is also expressed in solidarity when a person unconditionally supports outside causes for the collective benefit.

The negative sense it manifests itself when a society is not firm enough to oppose what can do harm. When it leaves room for intolerant actions without resistance or reply, although it is evident that they do not benefit the individual or the community. When he appeals too much to patience, or acts indifferently or underestimating the real danger that intolerance represents in maintaining democratic foundations.

The limits to tolerance make it possible for it to be strengthened in the face of the threats of intolerant practices. Societies must instill the values ​​of freedom and democracy from childhood. Educate children and young people in understanding others, in the diversity of cultures and histories, highlighting the common human condition. Teach them the need to renounce violence, to adopt dialogue to resolve conflicts, without this meaning tolerating injustices and violation of rights. Show them that you can be in solidarity with the causes of others without giving up your own identity and respect for others.

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