Our National Debate on Tolerance

Posted by: on July 10th, 2020

We are having a national debate on tolerance and ancillary topics around race, social inequity and injustice, free speech, individual rights, religious freedom and a host of related topics.  Our ability to freely engage in these conversations, deliberations and dialogue will, as they always have, continue to define us as a nation.

What is troubling to me is that people feel reluctant to speak their voice out of fear or simply disinterest in being identified as one of “those” people or worse, the “enemy”.  I am not the only one who resists being pigeon-holed, I want to be fully heard too.

Like so many others, I am weary from warring and wish that we might move through this polar phase and come out the other side a better more tolerant nation. 

But here is where the rubber meets the road:

I can shout from the mountain top, protest, write, defend and advocate so long as I do not commit a crime; I may not defame another, recklessly or intentionally cause harm to their being, physically or mentally, violate their rights under the law or impede their ability to exercise full citizenship.

I am sure I am not stating this in complete legal terms because I am speaking to you from inside this debate, person to person. But the point at hand is that we must differentiate between free speech, which is the cornerstone of our society, and conduct that interferes with the ability to exercise this freedom.

If I misrepresent facts, that is not a crime although it may do harm. If I misrepresent myself by saying one thing then doing another, that is not a crime, although I may be called out or even shamed, and that is not a crime either. I may say and do nothing about what I see and hear around me, that is my right and not a crime, although it may result in harm to those around me.

Each one of us will determine whether or how we wish to engage in this national debate.

We are exhausted by the unending feeling of wrongness around us. I do not have a solution for this, but I feel certain that by regulating our own thoughts, emotions and behaviors we will be better able to fully observe our rights and be more fully present in this moment in time. We will be more effective when we speak out and more tolerant of others. By examining our own intolerance, we can find our internal compass and develop the necessary competencies to fully participate and influence this national debate.

About Nancy J. Hess

I help leaders pioneer extraordinary change through high engagement and whole systems approaches that focus on HR and People.