Live and Let Live

There is no courage without fear. Implicit in the concept of courage is the notion of acting in spite of being afraid. If you’re not worried that anything bad might happen to you in consequence of your actions, you cannot be said to be acting courageously. Knowingly entering a body of water full of ravenous sharks is courageous, but diving into a great-white-infested bay in the sincere albeit erroneous belief that it contains no sharks or that the sharks it may contain are harmless even though they aren’t, requires no courage. From your perspective, it’s no different than going for a swim in the pool. What’s courageous about that? The fact that you may end up getting ripped to shreds is irrelevant when it comes to determining your level of courage going in, which is exactly zero if you are oblivious to any potential dangers lurking in the water—as it would be if, for whatever reason, you didn’t mind getting supped upon by a big fish.

Likewise, you cannot be said to be “tolerant” unless you have a problem with that which you are being tolerant about. If rap music doesn’t bother you and never has, it makes no sense to call yourself tolerant of it. We don’t need a capacity for tolerance in order to accept things we don’t object to in the first place. I don’t “tolerate” my neighbor rocking a silly hat. I simply don’t care what she puts on her block. And if I actively liked her sense of fashion, it would be even more meaningless to say I was tolerant of it. On the other hand, if her head wear irked me in some way, but I made a conscious decision that she does have and should have the right to wear whatever she wants irrespective of my personal grievances regarding her attire, then and only then would I be tolerant. If we don’t find it difficult to put up with something, the concept of tolerance doesn’t apply.

Liberals have a reputation of being more tolerant, and conservatives of being less tolerant. In fairness, conservatives generally don’t put themselves out there as being an exceptionally tolerant bunch; rather, they openly champion a philosophy of right vs. wrong and feel that making judgments is a good thing. Liberals, on the other hand, abhor the notion of being judgmental and generally pride themselves in their elevated capacity for universal tolerance—to “live and let live,” as one will often hear from liberal lips.

That said, I don’t see any difference whatsoever in the actual capacity and willingness for tolerance between liberals and conservatives. None. Dyed-in-the-wool adherents of either camp will “tolerate” any and all behaviors and points of view they don’t object to, and vigorously judge and attack everything they have a problem with. The only difference being, as stated above, that conservatives don’t run around promoting themselves as paragons of tolerance, so there’s less of a contradiction when they espouse unbending positions and openly condemn opposing points of view.

Does the typical liberal have a problem with, say, gay marriage or getting stoned? Of course not. So what exactly is he or she being “tolerant” about? Nothing. If there are no umbrages to vanquish, the tolerance muscle never comes into play. Yet when confronted with ideas that conflict with liberal ideology, such as the suggestion that the unborn may have a fundamental right to life, do liberals, on balance, display any more tolerance than conservatives do when confronted with ideas that conflict with conservative doctrine, such as that women may have a fundamental right to choose?

No. Same difference.

So anytime I hear the words “live and let live,” as sage and enlightened as they may be, I wonder if there are any views and behaviors the utterer of that phrase is willing to “let live” in spite of harboring personal objections to them. Probably not. It simply isn’t human nature to “let live” stuff that bugs us, disturbs us, and jolts our sense of right vs. wrong. And it’s no big trick to “let live” anything that doesn’t ruffle our feathers to begin with. Only if something truly galls us do we have an opportunity to demonstrate how tolerant we are.

I simply don’t see liberals as any more eager to avail themselves of such opportunities than conservatives. Neither strike me as any more tolerant, less judgmental, and less evangelical in putting forth their beliefs than the other.

  • Thomas Stazyk

    Interesting both semantically and philosophically.

    The problem comes when you are forced to tolerate the things you are intolerant about.  Rap music is a good example. 

    • Cyberquill

      I’m intolerant about being forced. 

  • Richard

    Intolerance is intolerable. So is tolerance.

    • Cyberquill

      So are the British. 

  • Find an Outlet

    On courage, I see many magazine covers that say things like “Elizabeth Taylor’s brave last days,” etc. How do they know she was brave? Maybe she was kicking and screaming like I would be.

    On tolerance, you’re right…people are only tolerant of how they think everybody should live. We all like to think of ourselves as tolerant but we’re not. It’s not really a human trait and furthermore it’s not always right. I guess the difference is how we handle having to put up with crap we don’t like.

    Good read.

    • Cyberquill

      One rarely reads about someone dealing with a grave medical condition in a cowardly manner. The terminally ill are deemed courageous by default. And John F. Kennedy reportedly explained how he became a war hero as “They sank my boat.” 

      Human nature makes it almost impossible for us to accept things we regard as wrong, immoral, or unfair. If something truly gets our goat, chances are we won’t tolerate it, period.