Have you ever noticed that the whole concept of tolerance is a bit tricky? As someone who is more likely to identify as a liberal (that's with a small l in Canada because I do not declare loyalty to political parties) or a lefty, it is true that most of my friends and acquaintances are also left leaners. People who are very conservative generally do not like me and while I think it's good to avoid living in a bubble, to have friends with varying ideas and values, how much of a friendship can we have with people who are very different from ourselves? If you are against abortion always, want more religion in public institutions, don't support gay marriage and believe people of races other than your own are in some way inferior or undesirable then I can't respect your values so we are unlikely to be friends. If you are so liberal minded you believe in things unsupported by science, I cannot respect your intelligence. Tolerance of quackery is just as dangerous to humanity's well being as intolerance of other human beings unlike yourself.
Respect is a term I often hear tossed about and yet I seem to hold a slightly different definition of it than my peers do. Many use the word respect as synonymous with accepting an individual's rights to live their life as they choose so long as they do not cause harm. I call that tolerance, although deciding whether or not an individual's choices cause harm is never a simple thing. Harm to whom? You, me, the neighbour, someone's god, an institution? Anyone familiar with the debate between left and right over whether or not homosexuality is harmful knows just what I mean. This makes the concept of tolerance a bit of a farce. As a lefty debating a righty, I never throw the 'you are so intolerant' accusation in anyone's face. It doesn't hold up because there are things I am intolerant of. Child abuse is one. But who is defining child abuse? Is spanking child abuse? Is religious indoctrination child abuse? Is divorce child abuse? Which, if any of these things are you tolerant of?
What most liberals mean when they speak of tolerance is acceptance of what they accept, because they are more likely than a conservative to accept newer things, things that stray from tradition. Caution and adherence to tradition are what define a conservative. There are times when it is quite prudent to be conservative, as long as it also comes with open enquiry.
Tolerance is a pointless term when applied to social issues and in politics and clearly a person can be too tolerant as well as not tolerant enough.
If I am tossing out tolerance as a term that is any use, I am also inclined to have little use for the term respect. To me, respect means esteem, admiration, holding someone as worthy of emulating. Arguing that we must respect all individuals is really a condensed form of saying we must respect their basic human rights, which is a different matter. This leads us into discussing mental illness and sanity, something no human is yet fully qualified to be certain of, though perhaps neuroscience will get us there one day. It often seems to me that there is a line that can be drawn somewhere, and the law does attempt to do that when it attempts to determine if the actions were taken by someone who knew right from wrong or who had the ability to refrain from acting. We don't have to be tolerant of actions that are harmful even if the perpetrator cannot be held fully responsible, but how we treat that perpetrator may differ if we can find the line of responsibility and thus how willing we are to remove some of that individual's rights will be dependent on that.
Although I sympathise more with the liberal agenda, I see so many difficulties with it. How can you take billions of human beings and educate them, inform them, consider their backgrounds, upbringings, the value systems they have been taught, make discussion and informed debate possible and find any sort of consensus on what to tolerate or to what degree tolerate it? How can you encourage all of these people to respect each other and which definition of respect should be used?
The majority of people will always be under-educated and many of them low in intelligence. Huge numbers of people will always be poor and in this world where they can now see just how poor they are in comparison to others they will be rightfully angry. Certain people will always seek power and dominance. In the end, we are all just hoping that we can persuade the majority of our point of view so as to succeed at the polls.
I am exhausted just trying to imagine how this can all be dealt with, but I believe it begins with widespread education and the end of religious fundamentalism. I don't expect to see those things happen in my lifetime and I am sceptical that they ever can. And yet I am compelled to hope for steps in that direction, compelled to strive for it, compelled to believe such striving is imperative to what it means to me to be alive and human.