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PHILosophy on Intolerance

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Intolerance: (noun) Unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behaviour that differ from one’s own.

If you want to focus briefly on one of the defining traits of modern society – and the negative consequences that grow with it – please join me for a short sojourn.

Firstly, I am talking in a very, very broad sweep today.

This is not about one particular issue or another – although I will mention a couple of topical examples. My thoughts are with a state of mind that is becoming ever more present in the way we interact as a society. You know, how we get on with each other.

Let me get the elephant out of the room straight away. We have a postal survey on same-sex marriage in play at present … and (typical of the media) the vast majority of what we read about is the actions and words of fringe extremists.

My view: how you see the issue and vote the issue is entirely up to you. There is absolutely no doubt that I – and you – have friends and acquaintances who will vote differently. And, in the process, I have no doubt they will not be badgering or harassing anyone who has an opposing view.

So that’s gone now … moving on.

In the United States at the moment we have a president who is so forthright and vehement in his views that there appears to be little room to maneuver towards compromise. Admittedly, he is facing some pretty forthright and vehement views from people who do not spare insult, either.

President Trump’s latest domestic flare-up is about NFL players kneeling as the American national anthem is played as a sign of protest about black rights and treatment. He says they should respect the anthem and the flag … that it is not a ‘race’ issue. If they don’t show that respect, he says they are fired from the team.

In response, a star basketballer calls him a “bum.”

What a shame that we can’t get both sides to pull back the stridency and … you know … maybe even, somehow, get together and try to harmonise on the issue. If they don’t, well, it seems they will only embolden the fringe riders, the people who care not for the other’s view.

I think it’s particularly disturbing that students and lecturers at some universities are among the worst offenders.

We have had repeated instances here where people have had to run a physical gauntlet just to get to hear a speaker … other instances where speakers have been shouted down and stopped. And this, coming from some of our supposedly brightest young minds. It’s a worry.

I’m not sure if you have ever heard of Alexander McCall Smith. To be honest, I hadn’t until I went searching for a quote to use as a foundation for my argument today.

Manners are the basic building blocks of civil society.

OK; that sounds pretty humdrum doesn’t it? But think about. It is not really that humdrum – it is just a little gem of light in the gloom of today’s intolerance.

McCall Smith (who, by the way, is widely regarded for his approach to ethics) proffers to us the incisive, simple solution … because inherent to manners is respect. And, to that end, more of us should speak up when extreme, disrespectful views are pushed out from the minority fringe.

Friends, I am not talking from some theoretical pulpit – as a youngster, I copped the odd bit of racism and taunting because my name wasn’t Smith or Jones. It didn’t scar me; it made me stronger … and I worked hard to show by example that I was every bit equal or better.

And maybe that sits in the deep recesses of my mind in my approach to things. Sure, I have strongly formed views on this and that; but, I’m up for the debate on whatever it is. In the end, I may not change your view and you may not change mine, but we will still be friends, acquaintances … and respectfully so.

Earlier in this little epistle, I touched on a couple of particular matters to set the issue. There are so many matters that matter if we are to be the tolerant and accommodating society that I believe exists in Australia.

We cannot let the fringe hardliners command the debate – whatever the issue.

As McCall Smith says: I’m interested in character and dialogue and exchange of ideas.

I hope we all are.

Till next time, all the best.

Cheers, Phil


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