Last week, we seemed to have touched a major nerve as more than 800 people joined the conversation following my question, Are We Becoming A Nation Of Intolerance? Raising the obvious via this simple article seems to have stimulated quite a discussion.
Some responded with appreciation that we placed a bit more of the spotlight on the increasingly rancorous vitriol that has become commonplace in political debate. Some blasted me for seeming to suggest that intolerance showed up around noon yesterday. And just about everything in between.
Bill dropped me an email writing that "As a society we have developed a diminished capacity for empathy." He then went on to suggest he would now be using the following closing in his signature line for email messages: "When did 'There but for the grace of God, go I' get replaced with 'It sucks to be you'? And what can you and I do about it?"
Bill's comment about diminished empathy seems to me to be spot on. I wonder how it is that we seem have become increasingly so intolerant of others and so willing to spill our intolerance upon them?
Of course, intolerance is nothing new in the world, much less in our country. However, it does seem to me that there's more of it to see these days. Now, whether that's because there's a larger dose of intolerance in our water supply, or simply that our new media have made it that much easier to note, I don't really know.
I don't really care either. However, I do care about the increasing levels of intolerance being spewed around. I don't care so much about the history of intolerance as I do the history we are creating right here, right now.
One of our readers, Cjsamms, put in the following comment to the article:
One of the things I've found since coming to HuffPost is that liberals can be every bit as intolerant as conservatives. The only difference is their perspective on any issue. There is no middle ground. There is no room for compromise. People just aren't allowed to have an opinion different from your own.
Have you noticed this as well? Intolerance and negative criticism absent of a positive alternative are now the tools of the trade regardless of political persuasion. It's as though people everywhere have ceded the battle for the moral high ground, and have settled for the moral swamp instead. When in doubt, criticize and ostracize.
Intelligentdisciple chose an interesting juxtaposition of insights. He wrote:
Becoming? Really? Umm exactly when did Mr Bishop step out of the time machine he was in that had transported him to this parallel time line America that was tolerant? Because this America, the one that exists in this time line has NEVER had a history of being tolerant. To make a statement that we are becoming a nation of intolerance would indicate a departure from a place of tolerance which I am not quite sure when that was. I must have missed the bus on that one.
I really must agree with Intelligentdisciple in many ways. I'm not sure we needed the cynical or sarcastic tone, but if we put aside that tonality, there remains a valuable message. Sparked by the underlying message, I would like to offer an alternative view, one that in some ways will be an alternative view to my article itself.
On the one hand, we can look back on a history mixed with compassion, prejudice, acceptance, intolerance, and all manner of human characteristics. Indeed, intolerance has been with us for a very long time.
On the other hand, it does seem to me that we are witnessing an intolerance epidemic, with seemingly unchecked growth.
Framing the question the way I did last week, asking if we are becoming a nation of intolerance, I unwittingly opened the door to an even better question this week. Truly, there is no such thing as a nation of anything. Any characteristics that we might wish to ascribe to something as large as a nation, are really just characteristics held and expressed by individuals within that nation.
So, if intolerance really is on the rise, whether it is increasingly present or simply increasingly more visible, who's spreading the intolerance? Could it be you? Could it be me? Could it be some of us? Most of us?
I must say it was hysterical reading the range of comments as they came flooding in last week. The pace was so fast that I found it difficult to reply. Even asking if we could imagine a way forward and jointly find more uplifting ways of interacting wound up providing fodder for some, well, negative if not intolerant comments. And most curiously, many of the negative comments seem to have come from those who care, from those who have likely experienced the intolerance of which I wrote.
Bill's simple email closing could be one simple but powerful step toward a more positive future: "When did 'There but for the grace of God, go I' get replaced with 'It sucks to be you'? And what can you and I do about it?"
Indeed, what can you and I do about it? If we don't choose to do something about it, then perhaps we really will become a nation of intolerance, not just a nation with a bunch of intolerant people.
Would you like to experience a change? If so, what are you willing to do to become that change?
I'd love to hear from you, especially if you have something to suggest that might help raise the level of communication and compassion. Leave a comment here or drop me an email.
Russell Bishop is an Educational Psychologist, professional life coach and management consultant, based in Santa Barbara California. You can find out more about Russell at http://www.lessonsinthekeyoflife.com. Contact Russell by email at: Russell (at) lessonsinthekeyoflife.com
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