Friday, September 30, 2011
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE TOLERANT? (PART 1)
The word “tolerance” has often been bandied about in letters and op-ed pieces in the Idaho State Journal, most recently in connection with a letter that rather forcefully attacked Pocatello’s gay pride celebration and those who advocate the elimination of prayer at city council meetings.
It seems to be generally agreed by users of the word that it is a good thing to be tolerant and a bad thing to be intolerant. But beyond this general sense of approval or disapproval, it’s hard to discern exactly what the words are intended to convey.
What is it to be a “tolerant” person? It’s not implausible to think that the ideally tolerant person is one who values human diversity and hence accepts, or perhaps even welcomes, behaviors and beliefs that differ from his or her own. Such a person could be said to have, at a minimum, a “live-and-let-live attitude” or, more probably, to agree with that memorable expression from the sixties and cheerfully acknowledge that there are “different strokes for different folks.”
Yet the preceding conception of what tolerance amounts to may not find favor among many. The notion that a tolerant person must take a positive view of other people’s differing behaviors and beliefs may seem excessive, if not downright wrong-headed. It might be thought more accurate to say that a tolerant person should be non-judgmental about such things. There is a local church that advertises itself as “less judgmental,” which seems to mean the same thing as “more tolerant.” So perhaps all that is required is that a tolerant person refuse to make judgments or form opinions. This does, indeed, echo traditional Christian advice from the pulpit, such as “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” yet, in practice, it is difficult advice to follow, for more often than not, we form judgments quickly and involuntarily. It’s important to notice, here, that the discussion is now focused upon negative judgments. From the present perspective, it is the disapproval of others upon which tolerance crucially depends, not the acceptance of them.
But if it’s true that our minds are so plentifully supplied with categories of wrong-doing and wrong-believing that we rarely undergo a conscious decision-making process when making negative judgments, and hence that withholding judgment is not really an option, what, then, can being tolerant consist in? The obvious answer is: in not expressing those judgments.
In giving this answer, we have entered a very ancient current of moral thought.
We’ve reached two conclusions regarding tolerance: 1) the person who is being tolerant must disapprove of or dislike the thing, person, or behavior being tolerated, and 2) the tolerant person must intentionally refraining from “acting out” that disapproval. That puts tolerance within the traditional domain of “virtuous” behaviors, since at the heart of “virtue” is a willingness and ability to exercise control over certain appetites and urges. The courageous person suppresses fear and carries out his or her duty on the battlefield; the temperate person reins in the desire for food and drink; the generous person overcomes selfishness, the honest person fights off the urge to lie. And the tolerant person restrains the desire to act out feelings of anger and disapproval.
It is, at the same time, an odd consequence of this way of thinking about virtues that the degree of praiseworthiness of virtuous behavior is directly proportional to the strength of the urges that are suppressed. Hence, one who naturally feels little fear deserves less credit for courageous behavior than one who experiences intense terror and is able to conquer it. From that same perspective, the most virtuously tolerant person is someone who manages to exercise restraint while harboring the deepest and most passionately hostile feelings and opinions. That easy-going, live-and-let-live sort of person we discussed earlier is definitely not going to shine in the tolerance department.
Another interesting component of the concept of tolerance, consistent with its being a virtue, is that it can be overdone; that is to say, it’s possible to be too tolerant. Most people agree that one must not tolerate that which is a serious moral wrong, nor, in most cases, that which is not legally permissible. Unfortunately not much more can be said than that, because there is evidently great disagreement among people about exactly which behaviors are morally intolerable, and even about what circumstances might render law-breaking acceptable.
Many questions remain about the nature of tolerance, e.g.: exactly what degree of restraint is sufficient to merit the label “tolerant?”; why are the histories of tolerance and religion so closely intertwined?; and how does tolerance relate to freedom of speech? I will address these questions in a future column.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Saturday, September 24, 2011
"My mother was a warrior...Her weapons of choice were compassion, an enormous heart, a sharp intellect and a competitive spirit. She used her full arsenal of talents to fight for those who were not viewed by society to be capable, to be fully human, to be deserving of the opportunity to play, to compete, and to contribute to their community worldwide."-- Maria Shriver on her mother, Eunice, for the Huffington Post
It is no coincidence that Eunice Kennedy Shriver is one of the seven individuals I have spotlighted on my blog masthead. Her life will remain an inspiration to thousands of individuals for decades to come and has been an inspiration to me for most of my own life. It is only fitting that a woman who gave so much to her family, her community, her country and eventually the entire world would be celebrated today. Today is Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day.
To gain an understanding of who Eunice Kennedy Shriver was, it is impossible to simply say she was the founder of Special Olympics and leave it at that. She was that and so much more. Many would say she was the sister of Jack, Bobby and Teddy. She was that and so much more. She was also the wife of Sarge Shriver, but yet so much more. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was and will always be the person who truly opened our eyes to the kindness, joy and capability of an entire minority of Americans--the disabled.
Eunice, like me and millions of Americans, had a family member who was disabled. I often wonder if Rosemary, Eunice's sister, knew what her life inspired. The Kennedy family became leading advocates of the disabled and introduced this nation to the joy they can bring to our lives. The Kennedy family, led by the advocacy of Eunice, taught acceptance and ability. To this day the children of Eunice, through her beloved Special Olympics and numerous other organizations, are leading the charge for acceptance and inclusion.
Could Eunice have helped her brothers' campaigns and left it at that? Of course, but not Eunice. Could Eunice have helped her husband push the Peace Corps toward a future mark of 200,000 Americans serving in 139 countries? Of course, but not Eunice. In 1968 she created the Special Olympics and was intricate to its success, leading it to eventual international status with more than 3 million athletes in nearly 180 countries. What is truly impressive about the Kennedy family is, and always has been, that they have never been content with simply running for and holding office.
There are few Americans born after 1968 who have any interest at all in the Kennedy family or truly grasp the legacy of the Kennedy brothers. Americans born after 1980 have no memory of a Kennedy brother running for president. Few Americans my age and younger know anything about the Kennedy sisters. Many Americans do not even know or could name the generation of Kennedys that includes a congressman who just left office (Patrick Kennedy), California's former first lady (Maria Shriver, who has an impressive list of causes she supports as well), a city councilman (Bobby Shriver) or a former gubernatorial candidate and Lieutenant Governor (Kathleen Kennedy Townsend) and those are the Kennedys on the front lines of public service.
There are Kennedys who run amazing non-profits and distinguished organizations as well (Jean Kennedy Smith, Very Special Arts; Caroline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Timothy Shriver, now at the helm of Special Olympics International; Anthony Shriver, Best Buddies International; Mark Shriver, Save the Children; Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Foundation & Amnesty International Leadership Council; Joe Kennedy, Citizens Energy; Max Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Natural Resources Defense Council; William Kennedy Smith, Physicians Against Land Mines; and the late Kara Kennedy, VSA & National Advisory Board of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). Their service and advocacy knows no bounds.
We would all be better people if we, like the Kennedy/Shriver children, sought to be like Eunice and were constantly in the volunteer mindset.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver was fearless, kind, and unbelievably caring. As was referenced in a video in her honor on this day, she was a revolutionary. As her daughter Maria recently wrote, she was a warrior. And, is evidenced by the tens of thousands of people in more than 100 countries who celebrated the second annual Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day today through all types of service, she was an extraordinary woman who set out to blaze a trail and ended up changing perceptions the world over. It will be another lifetime before another comes along as inspiring as Eunice and she will be missed for lifetimes to come.
For more on Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day
For more on Camp Shriver
For more on the End the Word campaign
- Matt Kemp is not-so-suddenly a contender for baseball's triple crown. If not for the craziness that is the Dodgers, he'd be leading the talk for National League MVP. Triple Crown Edition/Jayson Stark, ESPN.com
- Morgan Freeman: The Tea Part is racist/Caitlin McDevitt, Politico
- Another bow tie-wearing historian who paved the way for generations of American historians (especially those interested in urban studies) passed away this week. The Pulitizer Prize winner brought something relatively new to the field of History--the study of Census data. For every historian who has spent hours, days even, looking at Census data and trying to navigate the Census website, we have the great Oscar Handlin to thank for it. Oscar Handlin, Historian Who Chronicled U.S. Immigration, Dies at 95/Paul Vitello, New York Times
- The Netflix saga continues. Now that Netflix has announced they'll be concentrating on streaming and Qwikster (not to be confused with QuickStar, the Amway company) will be the portion of the company responsible for mailing out DVDs, I'm beginning to rethink doing away with my streaming service on September 1st when Netflix raised their prices. The problem with Netflix streaming is their small inventory and the fact that Starz did not extend their contract with Netflix, therefore taking away a big chunk of videos from said inventory.Qwikster: Not to be Confused With Quixtar, QuickStar, Kwikster, Quickster, Kwik Star, or Kickstar/Harry McCracken, Technologizer; Netflix says it's sorry, then creates new uproar/Michael Liedtke, AP; Netflix's Focus on Streaming: Too Soon?/Robert Seidman, TVbytheNumbers.com
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Here's a round-up of links that are worth a read (things that caught my eye, topics that have been in the news, etc.):
- On Day Devoted to Constitution, A Fight Over It/Kate Zernike, New York Times
- Suspend disbelief to watch 'Moneyball'/Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports
- How the Right Made Racism Sound Fair--And Changed Immigration Politics/Gabriel Thompson, Colorlines
- Eddie Vedder says Pearl Jam support for 'West Memphis Three' continues after their release/Associated Press
- In Cheney's memoir, it's clear Iraq's lessons didn't sink in/Bob Woodward, WaPo
- IBM putting Watson to work in health insurance/Jim Fitzgerald, Associated Press
- In Tapes, Candid Talk By Young Kennedy Widow/Janny Scott, New York Times
- Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism/Daily Number, Pew Research Center
I'm always contemplating posts, in the rough draft stage or doing research on some post idea. Such is the case now, I've just been slow getting things completed due to not feeling well. Patience.
Friday, September 16, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Please consider participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer's. There are currently two walks being organized in Idaho by the Alzheimer's Association.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Can you hear when we call?
There where we fall?
Standing our backs against the wall?
Top of our lungs hallelujah?
Where pain and love bleed into one?
-- Mat Kearney, "Down"
Something I have always found interesting about human memory is how we each tend to group bits of information and memories together. For example, when thinking about an individual person we are close to, we often may remember several different events about that person and bring them all to mind when recalling that person. The most distinct memories I have about that day are grouped together in what I can only characterize as out of the ordinary happenings. Of course what happened that day was unlike anything that had happened in our history, but I speak of what was happening directly around me. It was out of the ordinary for me to not have listened to some sort of news that morning. It was out of the ordinary for the school bus driver to have on the radio. Once I reached school, it was completely out of the ordinary for the teacher of my first class to have the door open early and the television on. My memory has grouped each of these out of the ordinary happenings into a collective picture of what I did that day.
On the school bus that morning, I learned that just before I took my seat there had been another explosion, this time at the Pentagon. At this time, they could not confirm that it was another plane that hit. Just as I was reaching school, the radio was reporting that the south tower of the World Trade Center had collapsed. I left the school bus that morning wondering what they meant by 'collapsed'. Half an hour later I watched on television as the north tower collapsed. I listened as Peter Jennings said that a plane had crashed near Pittsburgh, a plane most likely headed for the United States Capitol or the White House.
When I speak of my generation losing our innocence, I not only speak of watching in horror that day as this nation was attacked. Surely many in my generation were watching and realizing, as I was, that the large objects falling from the towers were actually people. Surely many in my generation saw those around them crying, people we had all known to be immensely strong. All of these things were part of that day for my generation, but the days that came after were what changed us. My generation signed up with the selective service in the weeks and months that followed. My generation enlisted. And to this day, my generation is fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even though there was absolutely no connection between the events of September 11th and Iraq, that lie is how my generation ended up fighting in Iraq, losing life and limb. Like the thousands of Americans who were inspired by President Kennedy to dedicate themselves to public service, 9/11 drove thousands in my generation to military service. My generation fought and continues to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. My generation invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein. My generation was deployed to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and saw untold horrors, many that could have been prevented by a quicker response. While not all of these things are connected to the men who boarded those planes that September day, all of these things happened because on September 11th my generation found in themselves a sense of responsibility to this nation and rose up in droves, enlisting in the United States military.
The first time I visited Dealey Plaza where President Kennedy was killed, I had this indescribably heavy feeling. As I stood there, four years removed from the events of September 11th, I realized that the feeling I was having was exactly as I felt that September day as I watched in horror as the second tower fell. It was that day, standing under a blue, clear sky in Dallas that I understood completely what a generation of Americans meant when they said that the day Kennedy was assassinated they lost their innocence. On September 11, 2001, we lost ours.
Friday, September 9, 2011
Mumford & Sons lesser-known single "After the Storm" from Sigh No More.
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Thursday night I was checking out the new Blogger interface, clicked on a widget to allow my blog to be viewable by mobile users, and the entire blog template disappeared. It set both the mobile view and the regular template to the simple setting I'd clicked on for mobile viewing. After using the Blogger/Google forum, I was told to click on 'revert to classic template' and that was a horrible idea. It reverted to the template I was using in 2004 when I started this blog. Completely maroon and gray. Remember that look? Yeah, I barely did. A very simplistic template with no customizations and no possibility of inserting my custom header because the old template was running on the earliest interface. I was sick about it.
After much worrying, I finally stopped trying to help from Blogger/Google and decided now was as good a time as ever to not only switch to a new blog template (compatible with the new Blogger interface), but to also customize the color scheme. At least my new template worked size-wise with my new blog header. I did not want to have to tell my dear friend Teresa that all her work redesigning that thing was for nothing! I'm not content with the color scheme yet, won't be for another week or so if I concentrate on it.
All I have to say is, what kind of company doesn't have a way to contact their customer support directly? Not only does Blogger not save the HTML template for individual blog users (or give you the chance to undo reverting to the classic template if you, like I, clicked on the tab), they don't allow you direct access to anyone that might be able to help you solve your problems. You're just stuck in blog purgatory awaiting someone coming along to the forum and answering your plea for help. I'm a fan of the numerous services Google offers, but after this week, I'm really starting to rethink using Blogger.