Dealing with verbal discrimination: the tolerance dilemma

How should one respond to discriminatory remarks in everyday life? To argue would be too much of a tolerance. But silence doesn’t work either.

At this year’s Shrove Monday parade, the "tolerance float" promotes religious tolerance Photo: dpa

Tolerance is derived from the Latin tolerare, which roughly means to endure or bear. What does it mean to bear or endure someone? I, for example, don’t put up with many people, I don’t put up with the way they act, the way they talk, I don’t put up with their opinions. But on the whole, I keep it to myself. Outwardly, I put up with them.

But is that why I am tolerant? Am I tolerant when I, on the inside, insult, despise and condemn them? That is one thing, and I would say about myself that I am not particularly tolerant. But I have enjoyed an upbringing that commands me not to show this inner attitude of mine, because tolerance is about a value that I respect more than I despise the individual attitudes: peace. That we don’t do violence to each other, that we don’t kill each other, in small ways and in big ways, as people and as countries.

So if I don’t show my dislike, if I keep my feelings to myself, my hatred perhaps even, if I tolerate the other in this way, am I still allowed to express my opinion, which may be contrary to the opinion I endure? I think that is clear: My opinion is to be tolerated by my counterpart just as I tolerate his by putting up with it, not hitting him for it and not putting a gag in his mouth.

If I tell a person – in a non-offensive or derogatory way – that I have a different opinion, then I even expressly tolerate his opinion, which differs from mine, by considering it worthy of being addressed. And there just those are mistaken who believe that one may not contradict them for the reason that one must tolerate them. But one tolerates them! By contradicting them, one tolerates them. One must agree on this premise.

To endure devaluations does not mean to be tolerant, it means to be masochistic.

Even under this column, there are often comments from people who disagree with me. I have to put up with that, I can put up with that. Such a dissenting opinion is, basically, desirable. It’s just that some comments are not an opinion, but an insult. Devaluations are not part of tolerant behavior; those who devalue do not endure, they attack. Devaluations are intolerant, they have only the goal to harm the other. To endure devaluations is not to be tolerant, it is to be masochistic.

If we assume for a moment that people move within this defined concept of tolerance, in their behavior, in their willingness to hear and comment on other opinions, then the question often arises in my mind of how tolerantly to deal with seemingly factually presented "opinions" that are intolerant in content because they are discriminatory, sexist, homophobic, to name just a few excesses?

If you ignore them, if you leave the victims of such statements alone in public, if you engage in argumentation, you already tolerate such "opinions" as opinions, they can really qualify in such a discourse. But if you insult the people who express themselves in this way, you agree with such pejorative behavior as permissible and strengthen the social tendency toward verbal violence. This is exactly the conflict I often find myself in, and I don’t know a solution.

And then there are cases where different values are almost equally opposed. In Hamburg, the school authorities are currently examining – because of a single case! whether it can ban the full-face veil in schools. Religious freedom. The freedom to dress as one pleases. A social educational mandate. Communication in school, also non-verbal. Equality. Combating the oppression of women through religious dress codes. Combating the oppression of women through school dress codes. Tolerance is practiced in such discourses. I am in favor of a ban, by the way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *