Yesterday I had a mind-stretching, faith-building, belief-sifting debate with three of my beloved coworkers. It began with a mention of last week’s post, “Gender-free baby,” and eventually covered everything from growing replacement organs to the credibility of the Bible, to gay rights and beyond. Yet the main theme of the debate was open-mindedness and tolerance, and how devastating it can be when a society is judgmental to those who have chosen an alternative path in life. My coworkers never fail in causing me to take a deeper look at matters that I often take for granted, yet are crucial in living a relevant life in 21st century society. On the 30-minute commute home from work I pondered our debate and began to draw a few more conclusions regarding the popular claims of being tolerant and open-minded.
Perhaps there are misconceptions regarding the cliched terms mentioned above. It is assumed that one must agree with everyone’s choices in order to be defined as open-minded and one must embrace all lifestyles and beliefs to be accepted as tolerant. I disagree, for in such definitions there is a logical discrepancy: to agree with everything means to disagree with something, because certain beliefs absolutely contradict each other. For a very exaggerated example: if I agree with one person that my absolute favorite color is white, then I cannot agree with another person that I share their absolute favorite color of black. I cannot place black and white at an equal preference level; one must take precedence over another, even if by a slim margin.
This discrepancy is clearly brought to light when it comes to judging those who maintain the traditional values of a Judeo-Christian society. These people are frequently condemned as judgmental and intolerant because they take adamant stands against certain controversial issues. To label this group of people is to contradict the heart of those who are the champions of tolerance and its partner, open-mindedness. In that instant they are not accepting of the fact that everyone has a certain set of values and standards which govern their lives. Before I go further, allow me to briefly define values and standards.
- A value is a governing belief that is closely guarded because of the meaning it brings to one’s life. We protect things that are valuable such as money, gold, jewels, an expensive car, a family heirloom, or, in a more intangible way, one’s reputation, a tradition, or certain beliefs.
- On the other hand, a standard is an ideal to maintain that defines one’s level of accomplishment or place in life. In medieval times every lord had a standard that was carried with him into battle. Each standard declared who was on the battlefield. Institutions, organizations, and individuals have ideals for how they conduct their work, purposes, and lives. They wish to maintain these ideals and that aspiration is their standard.
If I judge someone for being close-minded I am assessing them according to my standard of living and am therefore stating that I have a value set which governs my life and sets my standards. I am also saying that their values are different from mine. Thus, those who judge intolerance in the name of tolerance, or close-mindedness in the name of open-mindedness, are declaring that there are absolutes of right and wrong; this is in contradiction to the liberal definition of open-mindedness.
However, I would like to conclude by saying that it is possible to be open to another’s views and beliefs while still disagreeing with them and acknowledging of another’s choice in living while inwardly believing it is wrong. I can adamantly disagree, and even take a public stand against their values if I believe they are a detriment to my own values, while still respecting their soul and their humanity. Value clashes are what shape, define, and grow a society as long as they are not done in hateful ways that demean individuals.
The purpose of today’s post is not to debate gay rights, abortion, and all of the other hot topics (that might come another day); it is merely to firmly state that one can hold fast to one’s values and standards, even if they are in direct opposition to today’s mainstream society, and still be respectful and caring to those holding to the opposing beliefs.
What do you say?