Tolerance Seems to Be Evaporating in the Face of Fear
Bob Coleman, a reader from Franklin, and a fellow expatriate North Carolinian, referred me to a recent column by Hal Crowther, "Cave Dwellers of the Carolinas Rise Again," which he wrote in despair after North Carolina overwhelmingly passed the marriage amendment to its constitution, defining marriage as confined to one man and one woman.
I've admired Hal's writing for more than 30 years. He is a proud, unrepentant liberal; the way he writes, and his views, always spark a response, whether I agree with him or not - which is generally not.
But when my old home state passed the marriage amendment 61-39, I, too, was shocked. North Carolina had always seemed to me to be a place where progressive people and thinking fostered tolerance, and dampened the urges of the majority to impose its sometimes narrow views upon those who think or act differently.
I am sorry to see North Carolina embrace intolerance, but it is hard to be surprised. Tolerance is a courtesy that seems to have evaporated in the face of fear, justified by threats of economic collapse and to national security.
And yet while I think we all witness the shrill lack of tolerance and decorum in our public discourse, I know we experience every day the very real tolerant concern individuals express toward each other.
A recent example for me:
When Dan Cathy, COO of Chick-fil-A, expressed his opinion about gays, it struck me as egregious opportunism to vilify him, or to glorify him. Both the supportive eat-in, and oppositional boycott, were ways for us to collectively express our intolerance.
So when local employees reached out to boycotters with drinks and sandwiches, it illustrated for me that individuals preserve their humanity when groups lose theirs.
It reminds me of my favorite aphorism about meetings from a Demotivational Poster: "Meetings: None of Us Is as Dumb as All of Us." I hold tight to that observation.
We read about it every day, and it will get worse as we approach November. A stupid remark from either side begets outrage and fuels rounds of escalating anger, real and feigned, as the comments are increasingly taken out of context until no one can remember who said what, when. And they don't care; no one is going to be held accountable.
Another recent example of that helps me get through the political reading I have to do.
We read a lot about the intolerance of policemen; they are generally portrayed in unflattering ways. This past Tuesday, at a car wreck on I-40, I was reminded, again, of how my experience with the public safety officers in our community has been uniformly positive, with every sense of courtesy afforded to everyone.
I have yet to talk with a cop here that I did not walk away from the conversation with genuine regard for them.
I firmly believe that our sense of anonymity - in our cars, at our keyboards, on our phones, in the voting booth - absolves us of restraint, and without self-restraint our worst instincts surface. Add that to our social tolerance for angry hyperbole in public discourse, and we have recipe for making a bed that eventually none of us will choose to lie in.
Crowther concluded his column with this thought: "We're having a bigot's revival and a bully's carnival in North Carolina, and the infection may be spreading. A lot of us are terribly ashamed, and a whole lot more should be."
Frank Daniels III, part owner of The Pilot and cousin of Pilot Publisher David Woronoff, is the community engagement editor of The Nashville Tennessean. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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