Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tolerance Revisited

Building in General - 09/04/2010

Hello Fellow Travelers!

I’m posting something here that may go against the accepted grain of some Mason’s entrenched beliefs.
Tolerance is no more a virtue than Intolerance is a vice. Moreover, the opposite is true, too. Neither are a vice nor virtue in and of themselves.
Let me elaborate just a bit: By their nature, Virtues strengthen and support and Vices weaken and burden. Neither Tolerance nor Intolerance does either of these.

Therefore, you may query as to what “Tolerance” is and you would ask for good reason. So much of what Masons hear about it is lauded over the purpose it exists and to the point where it is truly unreasonably applied.

To hear Masons speak of Tolerance, one might assume that there are only two possibilities:

Intolerance --- Tolerance

...where “Tolerance” is an expected mode of behavior, specifically toward the religious beliefs of others and any “Intolerance” should not be “Tolerated.”

However, we all know that there are many more possibilities under the heavens than these two behavioral choices. Let me expand upon this further.

Tolerance is one of four words used to denote expressions or behaviors that occur when people are faced with something in which they must deal.

That group of four expressions covers a continuum that stretches from rejection through to acceptance. When adding resistance and tolerance to that continuum, we have four behaviors that people use to deal with situations.

Let me say this again: Tolerance is only a small part of a continuum of behavior based upon differing response/reaction choices. In a rudimentary continuum, Rejection, Resistance and Acceptance flank Tolerance.

This continuum appears like this:
Rejection --- Resistance --- Tolerance --- Acceptance

Which could be viewed as an expanded version of this:
Intolerance --- Tolerance

However, the later version of these last two isn’t the former version of the four, since “Intolerance” doesn’t capture the subtleties of “rejection or resistance” and “Tolerance” doesn’t capture the subtleties of “Acceptance.”

What was previously stated about Tolerance and Intolerance applies here too. Each one of these four expressions is not a virtue or vice either. They are simple behavioral choices that one may use in responses/reactions to life, and this includes those behaviors toward people with which one shares one’s life.

These four should also not be confused with Attitude, which in and of itself consists of seven key attributes*, of which only one is manifested by the aforementioned behaviors.

What though can be said of the virtues that support one’s choices to respond with any one of these four? My observations tell me that the Four Cardinal and Three Theological Virtues help guide one's choice to either reject, resist, tolerate and accept.
  1. These Seven virtues may call a person to reject what is before them when it is wrong for all involved. Don’t these Virtues help to discern this?
  2. They may as well call that same person to resist something forced upon him that is not right even if it is right for someone else. And, perhaps rightfully so!
  3. Yet, if what is right for one is not right for another and it is not being forced upon the person whom it is not right for, these virtues may lead someone to express tolerance. Would this be considered relative?
  4. Acceptance may unfold when what is at play is right for all involved and these virtues support this. Yet, without a firm foundation in the Seven virtues, could some things be accepted wrongfully?
These conditions outlined above are relative to whom is involved and the values that each involved hold as sacred for themselves and others. “Relative” because it is rare that any two people hold the same values much less agree upon how these values should be honored. The key though lay not in the choice of each of these four options…
Rejection --- Resistance --- Tolerance --- Acceptance
…but in how each is expressed. Each response/reaction is appropriate under the right conditions and inappropriate under the wrong conditions. Additionally, that key may never be inserted into the locks th at hold people apart because agreements upon honorable behavior are as varied as the faces of humanity.

Knowing this, I chose to accept that there will be disagreement and, when this occurs, I shall simply be open to better understand what others accept as honorable behavior or not. Once I think I understand, I may make effort to come to some amicable agreement, most of the time. Of course, I reserve the right to hold back on this if I believe it will work in everyone’s best interest when we don’t come to an amicable agreement. Sometimes this is appropriate too.

At one time, I defined “Tolerance” as the ability to withstand any amount of irritation, agitation or violation, perceived real or not, without responding or reacting in a devaluing or negative way toward the perceived source of that irritation, agitation or violation.

I should have expanded that definition to include all four possibilities and temper them with the Seven Virtues specified in the EA Ritual.
  1. “Rejection” and “Resistance” are saying “no” and doing so in a valuing, honorable and respectful way toward all those involved.
  2. “Tolerance” and “Acceptance” are saying “yes” and doing so in a valuing, honorable and respectful way toward all those involved.
People, Masons included, seem to focus upon the one behavior, Tolerance, though. It’s as if it is the sole option in this world of humans. It is not. It is but one of at least four that we as Masons should keep in mind as we navigate the minefield that is created by much misconception. This is where education helps -- more specifically "Masonic Education."

Throughout Masonic Education, “discrimination” is something that is a valuable and appreciated skill. Much of the first two Blue Lodge Degrees makes effort to cultivate this skill within Masons. As with all skill development, it is just as important to know when to apply it and when not to apply it. This too is something that is cultivated within the first degree of Blue Lodge Masonry.

So, when you see Masons who have done the Work that Ritual points to, you most likely see the entire continuum of behavior ranging from rejection through to acceptance played out before you in very righteous ways, all based upon their finely cultivated ability to discriminate appropriately depending upon the situation before them.

In addition, if you perceive that these same Brothers push the envelop of unacceptability in some situations where other Brothers are involved, you can almost guarantee that they’re simply messing with their heads and for all the right reasons.

I suggest that you play along. You may very well learn something new and valuable about yourself and your Brothers.


Brother Coach N

(Source: Pages 140-146; Building Cement - Uncommonly Concrete Masonic Education)

* Values, Intents, Perceptions, Beliefs, Emotions, Actions (behaviors) and Results


I'm proud to say that this article eventually became an appendix with my book, Building Cement.

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