Be not intolerant of the intolerant

Balance Scales - the image for fairness

Balance Scales - the image for fairness

I’ve wanted to share this quote for a long time, as I find it one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever heard:  “Be not intolerant of the intolerant.”

With the speed and simplicity at which we can blast our judgments and assumptions to the world (in tweets, in texts, even in blogs 🙂 it’s easy to forget that our words can have a powerful impact on others.  We seem to have become accustomed to the Court of Public Opinion over the court of law, the Jury of the Majority over the jury of our peers, Guilty Before Trial over innocent until proven guilty.

One of the greatest ironies I see in human behavior is the action taken based on the belief that it’s OK to be intolerant of the intolerant.  “Because I’m right and they’re wrong” is so easily the justification of demonizing others whose views are radically different than ours.  But notice how quickly we feel martyred and wronged when “they” use the same rationalization to justify their intolerant beliefs and subsequent behavior toward us.  Here’s an example:

Many years ago, I walked into my college psychology class and overheard a fellow student saying something like, “Oh, they’re just crazy – they’re a menace to society, and it’s too bad we can’t just lock them all up.”  Another student agreed, “Yeah, anyone who’d kill themselves and innocent bystanders in the name of religion should be kicked off the planet.”

Listening for a while longer, I realized they were speaking of religious zealots, specifically foreign terrorists.  What struck me — and what I finally couldn’t resist saying — was that the same description could be said by other cultures about Westerners.  I reminded them of the Crusaders from Western Europe, the “Manifest Destiny” creed of the American settlers, and today’s anti-abortionists who believe that “killing doctors is ‘right’ because killing babies is ‘wrong’.”  I ended by reminding them that, in all of those cases, the Western Christians are the “terrorists” who’ve agreed that their cause is worth killing others and dying for.  Shouldn’t “we” be locked up and kicked off the planet, too?

The response was basically “well, we’re civilized and they’re not.”  Again I had to disagree: If I were a citizen of a country and one day government authorities came to my house saying, “You look like someone who’s a threat to us, and if you resist us, we’re going to arrest you or torture you or kill you,” I’d have to wonder if my government had lost some marbles.

Or think of it this way:  If I were a native person going about my daily business and one day some strangers came to my home saying, “Your way of life isn’t productive or ‘civilized,’ so God told us to kill you, take your homes, and make profits off of your land,” I’m sure I’d call those strangers “crazy terrorists.”  And yet they are we.

There’s a fantastic “TED” video that illustrates this beautifully, set against the backdrop of post-911 United States – if you are interested, check out

In sum, I try to remember that my intolerance of the intolerant can easily cycle around to me.  If I want others to understand me, my integrity and due diligence say I need to try to understand others as well.  Obviously that’s easy when I agree with them, so my challenge is to see beyond my agreement and connect instead with their humanity.

I’m open to hearing your thoughts.

Adele Cox, MA, CMT
Youniversoul Health & Wellness
2305 Ashby Avenue
Berkeley, CA  94705