I’ve talked to Interfaith groups about discrimination, dealt with complaints over lifestyle choices and individuals bullying others over the personal choices they’ve made and taken part in group meetings towards either creating connection and understanding within community groups or fighting things that we should have no tolerance for.
I’m keenly aware that this isn’t just a theme that’s been running for me alone. It’s one that’s been on the social agenda for millennia and so it should be because a society, community or group of any kind needs to understand its limits of tolerance and constantly be checking its own morality.
The aims of the organisation that I volunteer for are to work along that fine edge between fighting for tolerance for the beliefs of our own community in all arenas at the same time as fighting intolerance towards our beliefs and practices from places and people that have little to no understanding of them. It can be a tricky line to walk.
All this work on tolerance got me thinking about the tolerance paradox and how it applies to the wider Pagan community. Karl Popper, an Austrian born philosopher and academic, theorised that unchecked tolerance would eventually lead to the extinction of tolerance entirely. This makes a lot of sense to me, but it isn’t quite as simple as being intolerant of the intolerant without taking other actions first because that in itself can cause problems. We have to allow them their right to free speech up to a certain limit if we’re to be just and fair but what we can’t do is allow that free speech to get out of hand and begin causing harm or to grow massively and take over a community. There must be consequences when that free speech causes harm to others. It’s those consequences that keep the intolerant to small groups of manageable numbers and unable to grow exponentially.
Within the Pagan community I see lots of tolerance between people and groups, I also see a huge amount of intolerance. I see it in the vitriol pouring from someone who believes someone else is “doing it wrong” somehow or towards groups that they see a certain way, yet that group is trying their best in their own way. I also see fringe groups enabling, even promoting, far right wing ideals. I’ve been on the receiving end of it occasionally too and I know with surety that some of my friends have too. We have to do better at recognising and acting when it’s time to be intolerant and when it’s time to do the exact opposite and be tolerant. We have to find that fine line and walk it ourselves so that others are empowered to do the same. That will keep the limits set and the behaviour we shouldn’t tolerate from raising it’s ugly head.
It is one of the remits in my volunteer role to act with tolerance towards the beliefs and practices of others. It is also my responsibility to stand up when it’s time to be intolerant and act against something that is causing harm. These aren’t just aspects of my role either, they are strongly held personal beliefs which I try to live my life by. Just like anyone, I sometimes catch myself being intolerant where tolerance is due and I have take some time to re-examine my beliefs and linked emotions. I believe to my core that we should all emanate this kind of behaviour and lead by example because it is not enough to believe it or say it, our actions have to meet those beliefs and the words we say.
My main question after all this musing is can we somehow find ways to work together and walk that fine line between tolerance and intolerance somehow?