Sixth Form Pupil, Tom, on Tolerance

There are many contentious issues that exist within society. Debates regularly take place regarding issues such as abortion; religion; and race, and opinions about what the right thing to do is in all of these instances vary massively between individuals.

Similarly, within Dean Close, religious convictions, political beliefs and personal values differ hugely from person to person and regular discussion is encouraged between people with competing beliefs.

In such an environment, it is often our tendency to denigrate the convictions of others if they differ from what we ourselves hold to be true. But what moral authority do we have to do this? What gives us the right to claim that our views on normative issues are the ‘correct’ ones?

I personally believe that in general we have no right to do this. In some cases, I appreciate that there can be a certain viewpoint that is generally considered wrong as it directly contradicts modern moral standards. Advocacy of genocide would be a good example of this. However, for the large part, debates which take place within Dean Close do not have categorically ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ solutions.

Over the last few weeks of term, there have been several reported cases across the school of pupils who associate themselves with the Christian faith having their beliefs belittled and insults thrown at them by fellow pupils. Now I don’t think you don’t need me to tell you that this is wrong. However, occurrences like this happen increasingly, not just within Dean Close but within society as a whole. To combat this increase in what can essentially be called ‘hate crimes’, it is necessary that we show tolerance to others whose viewpoints differ from our own.

Tolerance involves respecting opinions which do not fall in line with ours and ensuring that we do not offend those who hold them. To do this, we must look to understand the opinions of others from a neutral perspective where we can appreciate and respect why people believe the things that they do, even if we ultimately disagree with them.

Now this does not mean that discussion and debate cannot take place between people with differing beliefs; but it does mean that this debate must be rational, constructive and measured; and whilst we can express our opinions, we must not force them upon others. Lack of tolerance towards other people’s opinion will create division within society and this is more harmful than many appreciate.

Firstly, social division even on a small scale provides a fertile breeding ground for radical, populist political movements which are based on the conjuring of emotion rather than on rationality: if there is a lack of tolerance, there is someone to blame.

Secondly, social cohesion is fundamental to overcoming collective difficulties, like the current one. The UK’s societal division has resulted in a loss of the sense of civic duty in the UK. This has been argued to be one of the reasons why many individuals have flaunted coronavirus lockdown measures, with little regard for the consequences their actions may have on others.

At Dean Close it is fundamental that we show tolerance towards those opinions which differ from our own and learn to live alongside people with different views. If we do not, division will grow within our community, society will become disjointed and those whose views are held by a minority risk facing unacceptable oppression. I would like to end with the following quote from John F Kennedy’s time as President of the United States of America: “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”