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#tolerancemeans no one person has a monopoly on truth

Updated: Apr 8

Jamin Enquist, Graduate, Hofstra University

I see tolerance as the ability to listen to ideas and beliefs without immediately accepting or rejecting those ideas or beliefs. It is a curiosity for knowledge outside one’s worldview and humility that recognizes no one person has the monopoly on truth or morality. I see tolerance as a means by which I have encountered life-changing perspectives and embarrassing ignorance. I grew up in a household that prescribed a very narrow worldview for how life is to be lived. My parents’ standards of morality, subjective as they were, became the first lens through which I saw the world. This lens taught me to listen for what was “wrong” in the ideas that conflicted with my beliefs. 

Jamin Enquist, Graduate, Hofstra University

It was not until undergrad, when I abandoned the narrow beliefs of my parents, that I began to "really" listen to real people. I began seeking to understand before being understood. I learned that when you stop and listen to perspectives that you are uncomfortable with, one of two things generally happens: One, you realize you are wrong and change your views or beliefs, or two, you realize you still feel confident in what you believed before the encounter. Regardless of which side you come out on, you will likely walk away from the experience better off than before. My personal experience has shown this to be true. I believe one of the worst feelings in the world is admitting that a belief you once adamantly held was wrong or mistaken. But every time I have experienced a major shift in my thinking and worldview, it has reinforced just how important the practice of tolerance is and the power it can have to make a person more loving and compassionate. 

However, tolerance is not a justification for ignoring injustice. I believe there is a difference between allowing someone the freedom to live and express their worldview and allowing someone to practice a worldview that inflicts harm on the life, liberty, or happiness of another human. And in this sense, true tolerance may be a rather idealistic concept. The challenge is figuring out where the line is for where the practice of tolerance is helpful and where it is damaging to people suffering under extreme ideologies. This difficulty is exasperated by the fact that it takes a significant amount of tolerance even to debate where that line should be. But even if tolerance is more idealistic than practical, the benefit of embracing the humility that tolerance requires will always leave a person, or a society, better off. 

Lastly, I see tolerance as vital to the function of democracy in the form of compromise. The very concept of democracy recognizes that there will always be competing perspectives among people on how to live life, practice religion, and define the purpose of political structures. Without tolerance, the ability of people to compromise is significantly undermined, and political instability is inevitable. Thus, if American democracy is to be saved, I believe each of us needs to practice the curiosity for knowledge outside of our worldview and be humble enough to recognize that no one person has a monopoly on truth and issues of morality.


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