Tolerance - I accept everything?

Fr Ireneusz Skubis

What does it mean to be tolerant? We often speak about someone that he or she is a tolerant person. It generally means that he does not mind, that he can accept anything. You can hear that someone has tolerant parents and we imagine them to agree to anything, for example they let their daughter go away or let her wear what she wishes; they do not mind their son using freely all civilisational means, e.g. watching television or working on the computer for hours, etc. One can also hear that our priest is very tolerant. It usually means that regardless of the fact whether someone attended church services or not, whether he or she was a practising Catholic, the priest will allow a Catholic funeral and the priest will write suitable certificates... Today we should reflect on the word ‘tolerance’ since it too often contains dangerous liberalism and even the famous saying of Owsiak ‘do what you want!’ Naturally, we can speak about tolerance in the political and legal aspects but most of all one should consider the doctrinal, moral dimension. If I say that I am tolerant towards a colleague or a wife or a husband I mean that I do not mind how they behave we can see some falsification of our moral attitudes. Therefore, when we speak about tolerance we should ask about identity. We should know that reality should be clearly called, defined. The narrow meaning of tolerance that we can look at many things with indulgence in fact expresses indifference: let it be; I don’t care; it is his problem. When it concerns people we are responsible for it is at least strange. First of all, man should have his own self-definition, a definition of his humanity. He should also have a vision of his spiritual, moral life. Christ grants to those who confess him the name ‘Christians’ and makes them his disciples. It is important to know that according to the Catholic doctrine man was created and destined to exist as the image of God. Therefore, there are certain principles and rules that are important and obligatory. And tolerance must be always synchronized with what man is, with what his place among creation is and with his destiny. Thus tolerance should balance relationships between me and those whom we love and for whose future I am responsible. When we speak about tolerance, we should speak about love at the same time. There is no tolerance without love. Love ‘orders’ tolerance and shows what the limits of understanding, leniency, are. If a mother loves her son she shows him what is good and what is wrong. She tells him how to behave and how to live. She does not enforce her choices on him but shows him the ways to choose good. And such tolerance that lets people choose good and beauty means tolerance in the positive meaning of the word. You can compare it to a young man who looks at many girls but chooses only one whom he proposes to and with whom he wants to spend his life in marriage. And this is my tolerance of choosing other people: I acknowledge that everyone is free and has the right to choose but one should choose among the things that are morally good. Such an understanding of tolerance is important to family life where you can see the good of your beloved in an relatively easy way and where love is especially practised. But tolerance in this meaning is also extremely important in social life. How many people around us that are different, grown in different culture and tradition, sometimes irritate us. However, love orders us to show tolerance towards them, not to persecute them and not to destroy them because other people have the rights to their ways of life providing that they harm nobody. The issue of tolerance is important to young people who are educated in a falsified understanding of the concept of freedom (frolic) and in such a firm pressure on human rights that freedom is regarded as god, and we forget that young people have definite duties and they are no mean people. Tolerance is needed so that there is no hatred, so that we do not hurt one another, but tolerance cannot be separated from love and the sense of responsibility for others.

"Niedziela" 20/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: