When Tolerance is a Vice

How could tolerance be a vice? Isn’t tolerance a virtue?

Let’s start with the definition :

Tolerance – “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”

When one uses it as a way to feel superior since one is showing “tolerance” and continues to look down on another, it is clear that it is a vice.

What we see here is the tyranny of conclusions. When one “tolerates” another, he has often ceased the act of trying to understanding the other. He has made a conclusion that he will merely tolerate the other. Following this act, either indifference follows or festering hate or superiority.

In this case, raising the practice of tolerance to the highest value in society can have the complete opposite effect. It can stop understanding in its tracks through the act of a well meaning person feeling as though through the act of tolerance he is acting in a civilized manner, meanwhile internally conflicted or completely apathetic with no further desire to actually understand the other. The opposite of tolerance in our day is probably not intolerance, but sympathy, understanding between people.

And what about when it comes to health? What about the role for the rebuke? Do we merely tolerate those who we know are making poor health decisions? I’ve been taught that people are free to make their own decisions about their health but that it is my task to report to them what could be harming their health. It is not about tolerance, it is about preserving the freedom of the other to not listen. In ancient Hebraic teachings it is clear, one is not allowed to hate the person making bad decisions, nor avoid, nor disparage, nor harm, but it is allowed to rebuke and as the great medieval sage Rashi said commenting on the biblical verse about rebuke, it should be done in private.

In the archetypal sense, the healer / doctor should not be tolerant by our societies definition, but should strive for sympathy all the while reporting / rebuking in a healing way what needs to be corrected in the context of a private doctor/patient relationship. At that point, it is out of your hands and you must realize that the patient can choose to do otherwise and no judgement is needed. If you do not rebuke you have failed at your sacred duty. Use your heart and creative mind to learn how to do it with the most sympathy possible.

As for the healers of society who we lack, we shouldn’t look to those in politics who are motivated by ideals and power, not sympathy and healing. Nor should we look at those who strive for more and increased tolerance as it has been described above which results in internalized hate, lack of sympathy, and in many indifference. What I think we really crave is people who love us who aren’t afraid to rebuke us with sympathy and caring.

Published by

Jonathan Carp, MD

Dermatologist, health food entrepreneur, beach addict, and health teacher.