It seems we often want our way regardless of how anyone else feels. That old “give-and-take” attitude I remember growing up with seems to be lacking… all too evident among those who mock and bully others, even within today’s world of politics… where a war of words continues to erupt, and others are canceled. It seems like absolute truth and moral or ethical standards have become a negative, a cause for ridicule… while relativism, or determining our own truth as we want it to be, is more often revered.
Authors like Laura Ingalls Wilder and Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens have become suspect, apparently not worth our reading in today’s political correctness. They, like so many others, wrote about the way life was as they experienced it while walking upon this earth, something we can learn from. The Wilder Award in literature has been renamed the Children’s Literature Legacy Award because Wilder used words of a different era, inappropriate for today. We were appalled at censorship, banning and burning of books many years ago, yet even now we walk a fine line of what is appropriate. We disallow our children to read of life in other times when words or language we now recognize as inappropriate was used. Even the Holy Bible is often not acceptable because it might offend.
Yet, as discerning parents, we did not allow our children to read a few specific books in high school. We discussed why they were inappropriate reading material with both our children and school personnel. We were told by the principal that, because we calmly explained our objections, the school graciously saw our valid points and gave alternative reading material. In Jenn’s case, after giving one particular oral book report, a few classmates told her they wished they’d read that book instead of the original proffered book. A true story, it showed a quality of character in the challenges a young man faced as an Olympian runner diagnosed with cancer. Unable to compete, he turned to helping inner city under-privileged kids.
The book read by the rest of the class, however, was filled with gratuitous sex, filthy language, and mocking of parental/family values – found when I simply opened the book at random junctures. Actually, the teacher told his students to seek their parents’ permission to read that book! And, apparently, if other students actually showed it to their parents, we were the only ones who said “no way!” Even the school board was shocked to learn what that book held. It was pulled from the school’s required reading list, and the teacher actually complimented us on our strong stance, saying he learned a lot from us. There truly is a time for discernment of right and wrong when done with respect.
My poem here began to flow with news of the violence and tearing down of our nation’s historical monuments in the summer of 2017 and since. Removing such historical memorials does not erase or change history… except for the younger generations who never learn its truths. There are lessons learned in those memories earned. We’ve come so far. We’ve grown in understanding and acceptance. Isn’t that cause for celebration rather than condemnation? Our differences can be teachable moments. That’s what Freedom of Speech is all about… with a chance to show love and respect even in our disagreement, revealing true tolerance, not denigrating or canceling someone just because you don’t like their stance.
Tolerance, by definition, is an ability to be fair, to accept a viewpoint which is different, and to bear with another in realizing that the opposition also has rights… without approving wrong by our silence, or going into full rage when disagreeing with the alternative view. Perhaps we remember that society’s Golden Rule (which promotes tolerance, when you think about it), actually comes from the words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law…” (Matthew 7:12a)
Yet, tolerance is not a license to do anything we want at will. A moral society adheres to absolute truths of right and wrong, or it breaks down without this solid foundation… as we now see with a preferential treatment of criminals being put back out on the street where they are free to commit crimes again, by not holding them truly responsible and accountable for their criminal acts.
We should certainly be cognizant and tolerant of others’ opinions or beliefs, respecting our differences… but, that does not mean we have to tolerate rude or foul language, or abusive, bullying, or violent and criminal behavior. Tolerance is not freedom to persist in traveling down a wrong path. There are consequences for everything we do… and there is a time and place for speaking out respectfully against inappropriate words or actions.
So where did tolerance go? Too often, it seems tolerance is relegated to that which accepts and promotes a particular politically-correct agenda to the exclusion and canceling of the opposing view and person… regarding differing perspectives as not having validity to be respected. What happened to our ability to show respect through appropriate discussion? What happened to Freedom of Speech? Why the hate-filled, foul-worded, disrespectful language? Why violence with riots and destruction, or angry rhetoric to disallow conservative or religious speakers, even on college campuses? What is there to be afraid of… that others might actually have valid points of truth, different from your own perspective and agenda?
Fear of a differing opinion by engaging in anger and wrath toward that with which one disagrees serves no viable purpose. We have heard mobs calling for their rights or else violence will ensue… while proclaiming how tolerant and justified they are. Seems to me that violence as a coercive bully tactic is anything but tolerance. Perhaps it would be wise to observe that true tolerance… the courtesy to listen, even agreeing to disagree in appropriate discourse… comes by respecting another’s viewpoint, their freedom of speech, without the backlash of vitriolic speech and/or destructive violence.
When morality steps up and extends a hand in true respect, we’re living out the ancient Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). Given by God to Moses for the Jewish nation during its exodus from centuries of Egyptian slavery, these words still serve us well as a moral foundation for life even in today’s modern society. Doing our best to live out Jesus’ words in what we call the Golden Rule, we show great love and respect for others… “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” (Matthew 7:12 NIV) – just as we wish to be treated. With this love, and acceptance of those with whom we disagree, we embody Christ’s love, for “love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” (I Corinthians 13:6 NIV)
Linda A. Roorda
Could I but live a life that was safe
I wouldn’t question the wrongs encountered.
I would not wrestle with problems I face
Or troubles inherent with consequent strife.
For if I the bad from this life expunged
I’d then have left the best for display.
My life would exist by my design
For my benefit and pleasure alone.
Remove the memories and mask the failures
Fashion the remains to what I deem fit.
Let visible be selfish ambition
My life according to myself and me.
I have no tolerance for views but mine
My way is right and suspect is yours.
I demand my way and fight you I will
If only to prove entitled am I.
Yet what I now see is your hand held out
Bearing a gift, tolerance by name.
You’ve come to my aid and lift me up
To help me stand with dignity tall.
There’s a price, you see, for this freedom shared
It’s a cost in red that flowed for us all.
And it grants relief from oppression’s fist
That your words and mine comingle in peace.
Linda Roorda writes from her home in Spencer.