WoW 030: On tolerance as a poor master [Words of Wisdom]

In the zeitgeist of today's world, it is easy to come to believe that the world is whatever each individual makes of it. "You do you" is a common, even seen-to-be wise, motto. While this is true because we can all come to our own conclusions as free moral agents, this doesn't mean that those various conclusions are correct.

Tolerance, it turns out, is a poor master when it rules as Queen. When tolerance is the value held as the highest and most beautiful, trouble soon follows.

I hardly need to say that a love of diversity is precious. Unspeakable harm has been done and will continue by those who judge, kill, and are cruel in the name of their so-called superior tribe.

But tolerance as a virtue should not be seen as the highest good. When people lack a vision of the good, truth, and beauty of moral character, their foundation of moral relativism cannot hold the weight of a meaningful life. As the highest good, tolerance means society will never flourish.

Moral relativism essentially says that there is no ultimate truth, that each person, coming from their perspective, culture, and experience, can define their morals. The mindset of moral relativism, dressed up as progressive elitism, looks down on the rigidity of submitting to an ethic rooted in truth.

The challenge with prioritizing tolerance is that it quickly becomes divorced from truth.

Truth matters.

Truth is meaningful.

The truth is to be celebrated and pursued.

Just because the truth is not always obvious doesn't mean it isn't possible.

Our modern American culture struggles with a vicious dance between tolerance and playing the victim. Whoever can identify their pain has the moral high ground. Whoever can express loudest how they, or their ancestors, have been wounded has the moral high ground.

The dynamic between tolerance, truth, and love is not easy to navigate wisely. Most stories from history have been told by those who dominate others. So fiercely calling out injustice and empowering the marginalized are essential for flourishing. But social justice alone is not the most important. Justice alone is never sufficient as an end in and of itself. Justice only works well when couched in truth and love. Justice must be the beginning of setting things right. Justice cannot exist without truth, but never forget forgiveness is essential for flourishing. Lament is the necessary birth of hope and love.

In our western world, the narrative can become exclusively on how wrong someone else is, and justice becomes twisted into shaming another rather than on seeking to protect while also forgiving, loving, and building up. Social justice can become a sophisticated way of drawing new tribal lines that end up excluding others, the very thing it initially seeks to fight.

Tolerance alone lacks accountability. We can focus on our human rights, which is a beautiful and good focus. But concentrating first on your responsibilities and faults and changing and growing with your choices are always a more meaningful foundation than prioritizing what you deserve from others.

Love means letting go of the need to be correct, have your way, be recognized, or be celebrated. You don't need others to know your value when you love them and know that you are loved regardless of what some think of you.

But be careful about pride and the need to be right. It is remarkably easy to believe you have the best perspective, and it is frightening how self-deception seeps in. You can't know what you can't see. Be humble. Be open to being wrong. Be curious. Be kind. Be courageous and fight for others to be included. But don't do so at the cost of love.

Are you holding on too tightly to narratives of being wronged? Are you avoiding the pain of others because it is uncomfortable?

Virtue requires living from the radical middle.

There are seasons when this lament is fundamentally crucial to breaking through denial if you've been minimizing or running from your or others' pain.

But the deeper stage is love. Beyond lamenting is letting go of how you have been wronged and simply choosing to love. This doesn't mean enabling abuse or lacking boundaries. But boundaries are best when they are permeable and flexible. Rigid boundaries can become walls and prevent healing and reconciliation, and orienting yourself in a defensive mindset fosters fear and control.

Virtues must be held in a dynamic relationship with one another because they are interconnected. But the greatest of these is love.

Often we can get into either-or thinking rather than both-and. Either or is black or white, rather than holding the tensions and contradictions required of both-and thinking.

Sovereignty and love are essential values alongside tolerance. Tolerance is necessary, just not master.

Speak the truth against lies. But speaking out against lies, it turns out, is not as crucial as boldly and quietly loving others.

Courageously seek peace at every step and humbly focus on your transformation and responsibilities.


So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Paul of Tarsus

The first idea or teaching is that morality is relative, at best a personal "value judgment." Relative means that there is no absolute right or wrong in anything; instead, morality and the rules associated with it are just a matter of personal opinion or happenstance, "relative to" or "related to" a particular framework, such as one's ethnicity, one's upbringing, or the culture or historical moment one is born into. It's nothing but an accident of birth. According to this argument (now a creed), history teaches that religions, tribes, nations and ethnic groups tend to disagree about fundamental matters, and always have. Today, the postmodernist left makes the additional claim that one group's morality is nothing but its attempt to exercise power over another group. So, the decent thing to do—once it becomes apparent how arbitrary your, and your society's, "moral values" are—is to show tolerance for people who think differently, and who come from different (diverse) backgrounds. That emphasis on tolerance is so paramount that for many people one of the worst character flaws a person can have is to be "judgmental."* And, since we don't know right from wrong, or what is good, just about the most inappropriate thing an adult can do is give a young person advice about how to live. And so a generation has been raised untutored in what was once called, aptly, "practical wisdom," which guided previous generations.

12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson


Have I been avoiding pain?

Do I need to surrender my need to be right?

How can I accept responsibility and do the next right thing?


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Live wisely,


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