Sri Sri Ravi Shankar writes this week that teaching tolerance is as important as arithmetic. It would be tedious to analyze every line of this platitudinous ramble (he assumes that religion necessarily equals wisdom, for example, which is a pretty big leap in my humble opinion). But I do worry every time I hear people preaching the unmitigated value of tolerance.
Elsewhere, I have expressed my concerns about the unwillingness of Canadians in general, and university students in particular, to take stands on difficult issues. Maybe the problem is the incessant preaching of tolerance in the peculiarly modern sense that Ravi Shankar means it. Read his article for yourself, but I am pretty sure by tolerance he doesn’t just mean tolerating something (whereby one could condemn a belief one tolerates). He means accepting it,valuing it, maybe even celebrating it. Thus Ravi Shankar:
It is time to kick-start enlightened imaginations. Societal renewal has to be a collaborative effort of honest politicians, businessmen with integrity, religious leaders with credibility, visionary educationalists and social workers.
Well that all sounds nice, but it has nothing to do with living in the world. After all, how would we know who the honest politicians are in a culture where politicians only spout meaningless babble and refuse to answer questions? How will we find the businessmen with integrity when the founding premise of modern business is profit before all else? And religious leaders with credibility? Name six. What if no religious leaders are credible?
You see where I’m going with this. It’s all well and good to wax eloquent about accepting everyone and everything, until we realize that not everything is acceptable. We all love peace and happiness but we are going to have to really have it out with each other before we can agree on what those things mean and how we are going to get there. And it’s going to take a lot of messy fights.
A favourite tactic of my students is what I call “giving away the farm.” At the end of an essay, the student will write something like, “Of course, this is just my opinion, and any other opinion could be just as good.” Really? Because if your opinion is based on factual evidence and clear reasoning, it’s already a lot better than most. And if it’s not, then why did you hand it in? The student, of course, is trying to be broad-minded, because she has been led to believe that calling someone else wrong is intolerant. And so she has lost the courage of her convictions. And maybe convictions altogether.
My point is that some people are wrong sometimes, and it is okay to say so. In fact, it is absolutely necessary. As the great Ogden Nash once wrote, “Any kiddy in school can love like a fool, / But hating, my boy, is an art.” I’m not saying we should teach kids to attack or resent others based on the colour of their skin or where they came from, but at some point we have to teach kids to be able to do some hating. Hate the political spin that is killing democracy; hate corporate greed; hate religious nonsense.
Hate me, if you want (some of you have a head start!). Tolerate only to the point where you are not blowing things up and shooting people. After that, we have some really important fights to have.
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