Tolerance & Decency

My favourite quote this year is:

True Tolerance has decency as its boundary.

The point being that in order to show true tolerance you do not have to abandon principles that you hold dear to your heart. That your boundaries are valid and walking away from anything that violates your sense of decency is your right.

I tried to explain this to someone in the office, and in the course of a discussion, I realised that a lot of people interchange upholding their principles with imposing their beliefs and preferences on others.

Here’s the most extreme of scenarios that came up:

A young woman declares that she will not give birth to any children because she believes that the world already has enough children with no parents and that she would rather adopt one of those parent-less and create her family through adoption.

A young man rises up, clearly irked by this declaration. He declares that this woman is stupid (!!!) and is standing in the place of God (!!!) by making such a choice. He goes on to say that if she were his wife there would not even be a discussion about this. (!!!)

A second young man speaks, much more softly, but with as much disrespect, obvious misogyny and quite a bit of patriarchal disregard. He says that if the young woman above was his friend, he would try to correct her, with guidance and counselling until she saw how wrong she was. (!!!)

At this point, I am quite honestly frothing at the mouth. This has veered so far away from the issue we were discussing, but in a very strong way, it demonstrates my point above.

We are not even talking about moral choices here, which is a whole different ball game by the way. We are talking about lifestyle choices. What in the world makes someone think they have the right to decide what is right or wrong for another person’s life? (P.S. I took a break at this point of writing this piece to go and sort out my thoughts because just remembering the conversation made me furious again.)

It occurs to me that the reason people keep making mistakes and living horridly miserable lives is because they impose on themselves and on others these stupid limitations on what is acceptable in the eyes of man and God on the basis of traditions that have no place at all in the decision making process.

Whether you get married, or not?

When you get married, and to whom?

Whether you have children, or not?

How many children you choose to have?

Whether you adopt or give birth to your children?

These are deeply personal decisions that should be made by the people whose lives will be affected by those decisions, namely. And no one outside that boundary should have the right to do any more than express an opinion (not a judgement and definitely not an imposition of what should or should not be) and back all the way off.

Things get a little murky when it comes to moral choices.

It is clear to everyone that murder is wrong. Does the killing that takes place in war count as murder?

What about when you bring in pro-life and pro-choice issues? What about when a pregnancy going to term means the death of the mother? What about children conceived from rape? Who gets to decide what is happening inside a woman’s body?

How do the issues above differ from the choice a woman makes about what she wears to work this morning?

I keep going back to the quote: True Tolerance has decency as its boundary.

Firstly, it is important to note that YOU should be the only one to determine the limits of tolerance and acceptance that you uphold. What you base those limits on; common sense, tradition, moral choice, conscience, faith, holy books, is also up to you.

Secondly, and possibly much more important, you should recognise that the sense of decency that is to be upheld is yours and not the other person’s.

Thirdly, remember, YOU uphold those boundaries of decency on YOURSELF. You DO NOT impose them on other people.


2 thoughts on “Tolerance & Decency

  1. Indeed this is very well said, as J.A puts it and I too could feel a growing sense of outrage…..but allow me to quote from your second-but-last paragraph “….Secondly, and possibly much more important, you should recognise that the sense of decency that is to be upheld is yours and not the other person’s.” It occurs to me that there is also something called a common decency something that is shared…and that is why your readers are individually and independently outraged despite being far removed in time and space and not even having been party to the reported conversation.


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