Tolerance is more than putting up with things – it’s a moral virtue

essay about tolerance

Honarary Research Fellow in Psychology , Australian Catholic University

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Rivka T. Witenberg received funding from Large ARC SPIRT Grant; Department of Psychology Research Support Scheme, University of Melbourne and Australian Catholic University; Centre for Education for Human Values and Tolerance, Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv, Israel; The University of Melbourne Collaborative research Grant.

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essay about tolerance

We hear a lot about tolerance these days.

Tolerance is a moral virtue best placed within the moral domain – but unfortunately it is often confounded with prejudice. Much of the psychological research about tolerance generally and about the development of children’s understanding of tolerance of others who are different from them has been examined through research about prejudice – and not through the moral domain. The assumption made is that absence of prejudice by default means a person is tolerant.

Prejudice and tolerance are actually theoretically different concepts – and not the opposite of each other. In fact, they coexist in most of us.

Tolerance is difficult to define, which may have led to limiting the study of tolerance in psychology in favour of studying prejudice. But, unlike prejudice, tolerance can be grounded in the moral domain which offers a positive approach to examining relationships between groups of people who are different from each other.

Based on its Latin origin, tolerance, or toleration as philosophers often refer to it, is most commonly viewed negatively as “putting up with” something we dislike or even hate. If a person is prepared to “put up with” something – along the lines of, I do not like the colour of your skin but I will still serve you not to lose your custom – that person is someone who does not discriminate but remains intolerant in thoughts and beliefs.

Besides, who wants to be tolerated or be “put up with”?

At the same time tolerance cannot be indiscriminate. Indiscriminate acceptance in its most extreme form could lead to recognition of questionable practice and human rights violations – for instance, child marriages and neo-Nazi propaganda.

Tolerance as a moral virtue

An alternative way for us to think of tolerance is to place it within the moral domain and recognise that it is what it is, a moral virtue.

Many recent philosophers have linked tolerance with respect, equality and liberty. Those such as Michael Dusche , John Rawls and Michael Walzer among others, argue that we should regard tolerance as a positive civic and moral duty between individuals, irrespective of colour, creed or culture.

In other words, it is a moral obligation or duty which involves respect for the individual as well as mutual respect and consideration between people. Tolerance between people makes it possible for conflicting claims of beliefs, values and ideas to coexistence as long as they fit within acceptable moral values.

So while different marriage practices fit in within acceptable moral values, sexual abuse of children is immoral and cannot be tolerated. I believe tolerance is an essential component in social unity and a remedy to intolerance and prejudice.

The idea that tolerance is a moral duty had been acknowledged by earlier civil libertarians, such as John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, John Stuart Mill and others. They argue that tolerant people value the individual, his or her independence and freedom of choice.

When tolerance is placed within the moral domain relating to fairness, justice and respect and avoiding causing harm to others, it can only be viewed as a positive moral virtue.

Psychological research supports the idea that tolerance is better placed within the moral domain. My own research with my students shows the best indicators and predictors of tolerance to human diversity are fairness and empathy.

Fairness and empathy are also very closely connected to moral development and reasoning. They are fundamental to any coherent moral philosophy.

Empathy and morality

Psychologists such as Johnathan Haidt believe empathy is the most important motivator for moral behaviour. Others such as Martin Hoffman argue empathy is a motivator of prosocial and altruistic or unselfish behaviour.

Empathic people are sensitive to the thoughts, feelings and experiences of others. They are able to place themselves in someone else’s shoes or understand how it would feel to be treated badly. Placing oneself in someone else’s shoes is the essence of tolerance.

My research shows that people of all ages including children have a strong sense of fairness and empathy towards others different from them in colour, creed or culture. They reject prejudice and intolerance between 70% and 80% of the time affirming tolerance based on fairness and empathy.

Moral values such as fairness, justice, empathy, tolerance and respect are shared, if not universal, values relevant to dealing with human diversity

Tolerance examined as separate concept could have unique implications for education and social policy. Education aimed at promoting a harmonious society could do well to focus more on the relationship between morality and tolerance. Grounding tolerance in theories of morality allows for an alternative educational approach to promote harmonious intergroup relationships.

Part of this education would involve developing a strong sense of fairness and justice and the ability to empathise with the plight of others who are different in racial characteristics, ethnicity or nationality.

This article is part of a series on public morality in 21st-century Australia.

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Student Essays


Essay on Tolerance | Meaning, Purpose & Importance in Life

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Tolerance is not about everyone agreeing with you, tolerating others even if they don’t agree. Tolerance is understanding that while two people may disagree they are both entitled to their own opinion. Read the following well written essay on tolerance, meaning, purpose & importance of having tolerance in life, its uses and ways to develop tolerance for children & students.

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Essay on Tolerance | Meaning, Purpose & Importance of having Tolerance in Life

Tolerance is the ability to accept the fact that there are things in life you cannot change. It is the ability to shrug the shoulders and keep moving forward. It’s about who you are, not what you want others to be or to do. Tolerance is giving everyone the same chance you would give yourself. You can think for yourself and have your own opinion, but you must allow others to do the same.

Importance of Tolerance in Life

Tolerance in education is about acceptance and understanding. Education will be enjoyable if you accept and understand that not everyone thinks and sees things in the same way as you. Education is not about learning to agree with others, it’s understanding that everyone has their own opinions and ways of thinking.

>>>>>> Related Post:     Essay on Ethics, Role & Importance in Life

The tolerance is not about being right or wrong, it’s about being able to understand different points of view. It is not about being a doormat, it’s about being able to listen and understand without allowing someone else to walk all over you.

Benefits of Tolerance

Tolerance is freedom of expression. It’s the freedom to be who you are without fear or judgement. It will allow you to take part in social activities without feeling like you are not good enough or that you don’t fit in. Tolerance will give you the understanding to know how to accept another’s choice and make your own informed decision.

Tolerance will give you the ability to show empathy for others and understand that not everything is black and white. Tolerance will give you understanding that there are reasons for things to happen, it will teach you patience. Tolerance is not about being right or wrong, it’s about being open minded and understanding other people have a different point of view.

Tolerance will let you realize that your life is full so you don’t have time to be cruel or unkind. Tolerance will give you the ability to let go of anger and live life to the full.

Tolerance is not about giving up on people, it’s understanding that you can’t change them but you can change how you react to them. Tolerance will give you the ability to make your own mind up about people without pressure from others.

Developing tolerance in Life

Tolerance in life isn’t something that is developed overnight. It takes a lifetime to learn how to practice tolerance in your daily life. Remember, tolerance is understanding and having an open mind, it is staying away from judgements and opinions.

The first step to tolerance is knowing that you can’t change how other people think and understand that you can’t force someone to be who you want them to be.

The second step is understanding that people will say and do things that you may not agree with, but it’s what they think is right. It’s a different point of view from your own. Remember, everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and opinions.

The third step is realizing that people will say things to get a reaction from you. It’s not about what they say it is about how you receive it and use your tolerance to either react or move forward. This can be a useful step toward self-development and growth and it will also give you the opportunity to practice your tolerance skills.

Tolerance will give you the ability to help others, it will give you courage and strength. Tolerance is about being able to have patience with people and understanding that even if you don’t agree with someone that does not mean you can not like them.

Tolerance will give your life purpose, it will give you the opportunity to teach, a skill of a lifetime. Tolerance is about being able to see people for who they are and accepting them for who they are.

Short Essay on Tolerance:

Tolerance is the ability to accept and respect different beliefs, opinions, customs, and cultures. In today’s world where diversity is everywhere, it is essential for people to be tolerant towards others. Tolerance promotes unity, peace, and harmony among individuals and communities.

Being tolerant means being open-minded and willing to learn from others. It also means being patient with those who have different views and understanding that everyone is entitled to their own opinions. Tolerance helps us to see things from different perspectives and broadens our horizons.

Unfortunately, in recent times, we have seen a rise in intolerance towards minority groups, immigrants, and people with differing beliefs. This leads to discrimination, hate crimes, and even violence. As responsible citizens of the world, we must actively promote tolerance and speak out against any form of intolerance.

Tolerance is not about agreeing with others or compromising our own beliefs. It is about respecting the rights and freedoms of others, even if we don’t share their views. Let us strive to be more tolerant and embrace diversity in all its forms. Only then can we build a world that is truly inclusive and accepting. So, let us all pledge to be more tolerant and spread the message of peace and understanding.

Tolerance is a virtue that is often overlooked in society today. In a world where differences are constantly highlighted and emphasized, it is easy for people to become intolerant towards others. However, we must remember that tolerance is not about blindly accepting everything or everyone, but about understanding and respecting others.

One of the key benefits of tolerance is that it promotes unity and eliminates conflicts. When we are tolerant towards each other, there is less room for misunderstandings and disagreements. Instead, we learn to coexist peacefully and appreciate our differences.

Tolerance also plays a crucial role in fostering creativity and innovation. By being open to new ideas and perspectives, we can learn from others and come up with new and innovative solutions to problems. This is especially important in a globalized world where diversity is becoming the norm.

Moreover, tolerance helps to create a sense of belonging and inclusivity. When we are accepting of others, no matter their background or beliefs, everyone feels valued and respected. This leads to a more cohesive society where individuals are free to express themselves without fear of judgment or discrimination.

In conclusion, tolerance is a vital attribute that we must cultivate in ourselves and promote in our communities. It allows us to embrace diversity, avoid conflicts, and create a more harmonious world. Let us strive to be more tolerant and spread this message of acceptance and understanding to make the world a better place for everyone.

Tolerance Short Story:

Once upon a time, in the small town of Maple Creek, there lived two neighbors – Mr. Johnson and Mrs. Smith. Both of them were good friends and would often spend their evenings chatting on Mr. Johnson’s porch.

One day, while they were discussing various topics, Mrs. Smith brought up the subject of tolerance. She insisted that it was an important quality to possess in today’s society. Mr. Johnson, who was known for his short temper, scoffed at the idea and said that he didn’t believe in tolerating anyone who didn’t share his beliefs or values.

Mrs. Smith was taken aback by this response and decided to put Mr. Johnson’s tolerance to test. She invited her friend, Mrs. Patel, who was from a different cultural background, over for dinner the next day. Mrs. Patel had recently moved to Maple Creek and didn’t know anyone in the town.

As soon as Mr. Johnson saw Mrs. Patel, he felt uncomfortable and wanted her to leave immediately. However, Mrs. Smith insisted that she stay for dinner and get to know each other better.

Throughout the evening, Mr. Johnson was rude and made insensitive comments about Mrs. Patel’s cultural practices. But to his surprise, Mrs. Patel remained calm and didn’t take offense to any of his remarks. Instead, she patiently explained the significance behind her traditions and even shared some delicious traditional dishes with them.

By the end of the night, Mr. Johnson realized that he had been quick to judge and that his actions were not in line with the idea of tolerance. He apologized to Mrs. Patel for his behavior and thanked her for opening his eyes.

From that day on, Mr. Johnson became more open-minded and accepting towards people from different backgrounds. He learned that tolerance was not just about tolerating differences but also about embracing them and learning from them. Mrs. Smith was glad that her friend had a change of heart and they both laughed at the irony of the situation – Mr. Johnson, who didn’t believe in tolerance, ended up learning one of life’s most valuable lessons from someone he initially couldn’t tolerate.

This short story is a reminder that in today’s diverse world, it is important to practice tolerance towards others, even if their beliefs or values may differ from our own. By doing so, we not only create a more harmonious society but also grow as individuals by learning from each other’s perspectives and experiences.

Essay on Importance of Tolerance in Daily Life:

Tolerance is a virtue that has been emphasized by human societies for centuries. It refers to the ability to accept and respect differences in beliefs, opinions, and cultures without any hostility or discrimination. In today’s world filled with diversity, tolerance is more important than ever before. It plays a crucial role in maintaining social harmony and promoting peaceful coexistence.

One of the primary reasons why tolerance is essential in daily life is that it allows individuals to live together peacefully despite having differences. It helps people to understand and appreciate each other’s unique backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives without feeling threatened or judged. This, in turn, leads to a more inclusive and diverse community where everyone can feel accepted and valued.

Moreover, tolerance also enables open-mindedness and critical thinking. When individuals are tolerant, they are more likely to listen and consider different viewpoints instead of immediately dismissing them. This not only promotes healthy discussions but also encourages personal growth and development by challenging preconceived notions and biases.

In addition to promoting social cohesion, tolerance also contributes to personal well-being. By being tolerant towards others, individuals can reduce stress and avoid unnecessary conflicts. It allows them to focus on positive interactions and relationships, leading to a more fulfilling and satisfying life.

Furthermore, tolerance is crucial for building a peaceful and sustainable world. In today’s interconnected globalized society, it is essential to have mutual understanding and respect between people from different nations, cultures, and backgrounds. Tolerance helps bridge the gaps between individuals and promotes peace and cooperation.

However, despite its importance, tolerance is not always easy to practice. It requires patience, empathy, and a willingness to learn and understand others. In today’s world where divisiveness and intolerance seem prevalent, it is important for individuals to cultivate tolerance in their daily lives.

There are several ways individuals can incorporate tolerance into their everyday routine. One of the most effective ways is by educating oneself and others about different cultures, beliefs, and perspectives. This can be done through reading, attending cultural events, or engaging in conversations with people from diverse backgrounds.

Furthermore, practicing empathy and actively listening to others without judgment also promotes tolerance. It allows individuals to understand the feelings and experiences of others and encourages mutual respect and understanding.

In conclusion, tolerance is a crucial virtue that should be embraced in our daily lives. It promotes peace, inclusivity, personal growth, and a better understanding of the world around us. By practicing tolerance, we can create a more harmonious society and build a better future for generations to come.

So let us all strive towards becoming more tolerant individuals and make the world a better place for everyone. As human beings, it is our responsibility to promote and practice tolerance in our daily lives, for a better and more harmonious world. Let us learn from each other’s differences and embrace diversity with open arms, for that is where true beauty lies.

How to Promote Tolerance in Society:

In today’s world, where diversity is the norm and people from different backgrounds live and work together, tolerance has become an essential value. It refers to the ability to accept and respect differences in beliefs, cultures, and behaviors without judgment or discrimination.

Tolerance plays a crucial role in promoting harmony, peace, and understanding among individuals and communities. Here are some ways we can promote tolerance in society:

1. Education

Education is one of the most powerful tools to promote tolerance in society. It helps people understand different perspectives, cultures, and beliefs, paving the way for acceptance and respect. Schools should include lessons on diversity, human rights, and inclusion in their curriculum. Moreover, educational institutions should encourage students to participate in cultural exchange programs and engage with individuals from diverse backgrounds.

2. Encourage Dialogue

Effective communication is key to promoting tolerance. It allows people to share their views and understand others’ perspectives without judgment. We should encourage open and respectful dialogue, especially on contentious issues, which can help bridge the gap between different groups and promote understanding.

3. Lead by Example

As individuals, we have the power to promote tolerance in our communities by setting an example through our actions and words. We can lead by accepting and respecting diversity in our daily interactions with others, whether it’s at work or in our neighborhoods.

4. Address Biases and Stereotypes

We all have biases, conscious or unconscious, that can lead to stereotypes and discrimination. It’s crucial to recognize and address these biases within ourselves and educate others about their harmful effects. We should also challenge stereotypes and misinformation whenever we encounter them.

5. Support Inclusive Policies

Policies that promote equality, diversity, and inclusion are essential for building a tolerant society. Governments, organizations, and institutions should develop and implement inclusive policies that address issues of discrimination, promote diversity, and provide equal opportunities for all.

6. Engage in Community Service

Volunteering and community service are great ways to promote tolerance in society. It allows individuals from different backgrounds to work together towards a common goal, fostering understanding and respect. Additionally, it gives us the opportunity to learn about other cultures and experiences, breaking down barriers and promoting acceptance.

7. Utilize Social Media

Social media has become a powerful tool for promoting tolerance in society. It allows us to connect with people from different backgrounds, share stories and experiences, and educate others about diversity and inclusion. We should use social media platforms responsibly to spread positivity and promote tolerance.

8. Celebrate Diversity

Instead of seeing diversity as a source of division, we should celebrate it. Every culture and individual brings something unique to the table, and embracing these differences can help build more tolerant communities. We can organize cultural events and festivals that showcase different traditions and encourage people to learn from one another.

>>>>>>>> Related Post:    Paragraph on Moral Values For Students

In conclusion, promoting tolerance in society is an ongoing process that requires effort and commitment from all of us. By educating ourselves and others, fostering dialogue, and embracing diversity, we can create a more tolerant world where everyone feels accepted and respected. Let’s work towards building a society where differences are celebrated rather than discriminated against.

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Essay On Tolerance

Introduction: Tolerance can be defined as a fair and aim attitude towards those whose lifestyle differs from ours. It is a noble virtue. It is wanted everywhere. It is the virtue that helps us put up with those who have different ways and opinions, and outlooks in life. It also enables us to judge the other sides of things with patience, without losing temper.

In the past, the difference in religion led to prosecution, the difference in politics led to bad-blood and difference in opinions ended in blows. Tolerance is a virtue much needed in our turbulent world. But we must recognize that there is a difference between tolerance and tolerate.

A Social Virtue of Tolerance: Tolerance is the reflection of one’s own behavior and character. The level of tolerance varies from person to person and as per the situation. People have zero tolerance for injustice and violation of the rights. If we want humanity to flourish, then we need to practice tolerance from all walks of life. As tolerance is the spirit of humanity.

Tolerance is not only an abstract virtue but also considerable influence in the current affairs of life. Man, being a social being, has to live in a spirit of harmony and co-operation with others in society. In such a process, give and take is a necessary capacity for compromise.

We cannot persuade others unless we ourselves are at the same time ready to be persuaded by practicing sweet and reasonableness. It is thus seen that tolerance is a social virtue that is opposed to dogmatism, and dictatorship in society compromise time anus is seen. It is impossible to be tolerant if one is hide-bound and rigid in views of full of prejudices.

Real Meaning of Tolerance: Tolerance does not mean to come up against any fundamental principle. Our best self goes down if we tolerate evil. In matters relating to deeper questions and principles of life, it is our duty to stand up for them and refuse an easy compromise. But tolerance does not mean to bear up moral degradation, public nuisance acts, anti-social activities, moral corruption, wrong-doing, exploitation, and deception.

Tolerance involves both humility and meekness, engaging them to say, “I am not perfect, and I am not going to try to make this imperfect soul’s walk harder through my imperfection.”

A tolerant person does not tolerate political and financial dishonesty. But in our personal life and daily dealings, we shall have to belong bearing. Tolerance does not mean to encourage a weak-kneed attitude to life. It has a limit and beyond that, it may become a social crime. Tolerance is a virtue in the simple affairs of life.

Intolerance: Intolerance is quite opposite to it. Thousands of men and women were burnt for the difference in religion. Even today, purges of political opinions have not yet been banished from society. Intolerance comes from bigotry, narrowness, prejudice, and blind self-concept.

The Necessity of Tolerance: The world has not been set to one pattern nor have men been shaped in a single mold. It is essential to pull together with all in society. It helps a man win people’s minds and earn popularity with people. The difference in the environment or condition of life causes a difference in temperament and opinion. A historical revolution has to lead diversities in outlook. Heredity is a factor not to be overlooked.

Each distinctive overlook has its own background. A cultured person takes this into account, makes allowance for them and is ready to make concessions and compromise. Without this broad-mindedness, energy may get wasted in the futile argument. In this long run, mere passion never tends to any good nor solves any problem; passion has to be controlled and disciplined by reason and tolerance.

But as education has spread, the spirit of reason has tended to prevail and the vice of intolerance has fairly diminished. With the passage of time, we are becoming more ready to recognize the possibility of views than our own. We also look upon tolerance as a mark of education and superior culture of ethics of the polite society. All great men were tolerant. They learned it from their boyhood and practical life. The Holy Scripture says, “God loves him who is tolerant.”

Unfortunately, anarchism and intolerance seem to be on the upgrade of late. Extremists with the help of sophisticated military weapons are seeking to destabilize a country, taking a heavy toll of innocent lives. Angry young man, challenging all established norms, now parades the walks of life. Tolerance has been cast to the wilds by them. Our aim should be to tackle them with a strong hand and then, of permissible, bring them to the conference table.

Our duty of Tolerance: John Stuart Mill wrote: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

Tolerance is entertained everywhere. It is not a question that we should either be tolerant or intolerant after we have considered every pro and cons of anything. We know that more tolerant means a fool or a block-headed person. Tolerance does not mean to bear with any violence, injustice, unlawful acts with patience or silence. It means to watch and observe anything out of great patience. It aims or points at keeping politeness before having a clearance of anything.

Conclusion: Tolerance in true sense is to give consideration to others. Tolerance is a reflection of one’s own behavior and character. The consequence of tolerance is good for a tolerant. It is supported by every intellectual whole-heartedly.

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Beyond Intractability

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The Hyper-Polarization Challenge to the Conflict Resolution Field: A Joint BI/CRQ Discussion BI and the Conflict Resolution Quarterly invite you to participate in an online exploration of what those with conflict and peacebuilding expertise can do to help defend liberal democracies and encourage them live up to their ideals.

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By Sarah Peterson

Originally published in July 2003, Current Implications added by Heidi Burgess in December, 2019

Current Implications

When Sarah wrote this essay in 2003, social media existed, but it hadn't yet become popular or widespread.  Facebook and Twitter hadn't started yet (Facebook started in 2004, Twitter in 2006.)  More .... 

What is Tolerance?

Tolerance is the appreciation of diversity and the ability to live and let others live. It is the ability to exercise a fair and objective attitude towards those whose opinions, practices, religion, nationality, and so on differ from one's own.[1] As William Ury notes, "tolerance is not just agreeing with one another or remaining indifferent in the face of injustice, but rather showing respect for the essential humanity in every person."[2]

Intolerance is the failure to appreciate and respect the practices, opinions and beliefs of another group. For instance, there is a high degree of intolerance between Israeli Jews and Palestinians who are at odds over issues of identity , security , self-determination , statehood, the right of return for refugees, the status of Jerusalem and many other issues. The result is continuing intergroup conflict and violence .

Why Does Tolerance Matter?

At a post-9/11 conference on multiculturalism in the United States, participants asked, "How can we be tolerant of those who are intolerant of us?"[3] For many, tolerating intolerance is neither acceptable nor possible.

Though tolerance may seem an impossible exercise in certain situations -- as illustrated by Hobbes in the inset box on the right -- being tolerant, nonetheless, remains key to easing hostile tensions between groups and to helping communities move past intractable conflict. That is because tolerance is integral to different groups relating to one another in a respectful and understanding way. In cases where communities have been deeply entrenched in violent conflict, being tolerant helps the affected groups endure the pain of the past and resolve their differences. In Rwanda, the Hutus and the Tutsis have tolerated a reconciliation process , which has helped them to work through their anger and resentment towards one another.

The Origins of Intolerance

In situations where conditions are economically depressed and politically charged, groups and individuals may find it hard to tolerate those that are different from them or have caused them harm. In such cases, discrimination, dehumanization, repression, and violence may occur. This can be seen in the context of Kosovo, where Kosovar Alabanians, grappling with poverty and unemployment, needed a scapegoat, and supported an aggressive Serbian attack against neighboring Bosnian Muslim and Croatian neighbors.

The Consequences of Intolerance

Intolerance will drive groups apart, creating a sense of permanent separation between them. For example, though the laws of apartheid in South Africa were abolished nine years ago, there still exists a noticeable level of personal separation between black and white South Africans, as evidenced in studies on the levels of perceived social distance between the two groups.[4] This continued racial division perpetuates the problems of intergroup resentment and hostility.

How is Intolerance Perpetuated?

Between Individuals: In the absence of their own experiences, individuals base their impressions and opinions of one another on assumptions. These assumptions can be influenced by the positive or negative beliefs of those who are either closest or most influential in their lives, including parents or other family members, colleagues, educators, and/or role models. 

In the Media: Individual attitudes are influenced by the images of other groups in the media, and the press. For instance, many Serbian communities believed that the western media portrayed a negative image of the Serbian people during the NATO bombing in Kosovo and Serbia.[5] This de-humanization may have contributed to the West's willingness to bomb Serbia. However, there are studies that suggest media images may not influence individuals in all cases. For example, a study conducted on stereotypes discovered people of specific towns in southeastern Australia did not agree with the negative stereotypes of Muslims presented in the media.[6]

In Education: There exists school curriculum and educational literature that provide biased and/or negative historical accounts of world cultures. Education or schooling based on myths can demonize and dehumanize other cultures rather than promote cultural understanding and a tolerance for diversity and differences.

What Can Be Done to Deal with Intolerance?

To encourage tolerance, parties to a conflict and third parties must remind themselves and others that tolerating tolerance is preferable to tolerating intolerance. Following are some useful strategies that may be used as tools to promote tolerance.

Intergroup Contact: There is evidence that casual intergroup contact does not necessarily reduce intergroup tensions, and may in fact exacerbate existing animosities. However, through intimate intergroup contact, groups will base their opinions of one another on personal experiences, which can reduce prejudices . Intimate intergroup contact should be sustained over a week or longer in order for it to be effective.[7]

In Dialogue: To enhance communication between both sides, dialogue mechanisms such as dialogue groups or problem solving workshops  provide opportunities for both sides to express their needs and interests. In such cases, actors engaged in the workshops or similar forums feel their concerns have been heard and recognized. Restorative justice programs such as victim-offender mediation provide this kind of opportunity as well. For instance, through victim-offender mediation, victims can ask for an apology from the offender and the offender can make restitution and ask for forgiveness.[8]

What Individuals Can Do

Individuals should continually focus on being tolerant of others in their daily lives. This involves consciously challenging the stereotypes and assumptions that they typically encounter in making decisions about others and/or working with others either in a social or a professional environment.

What the Media Can Do

The media should use positive images to promote understanding and cultural sensitivity. The more groups and individuals are exposed to positive media messages about other cultures, the less they are likely to find faults with one another -- particularly those communities who have little access to the outside world and are susceptible to what the media tells them. See the section on stereotypes  to learn more about how the media perpetuate negative images of different groups.

What the Educational System Can Do

Educators are instrumental in promoting tolerance and peaceful coexistence . For instance, schools that create a tolerant environment help young people respect and understand different cultures. In Israel, an Arab and Israeli community called Neve Shalom or Wahat Al-Salam ("Oasis of Peace") created a school designed to support inter-cultural understanding by providing children between the first and sixth grades the opportunity to learn and grow together in a tolerant environment.[9]

What Other Third Parties Can Do

Conflict transformation NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other actors in the field of peacebuilding can offer mechanisms such as trainings to help parties to a conflict communicate better with one another. For instance, several organizations have launched a series of projects in Macedonia that aim to reduce tensions between the country's Albanian, Romani and Macedonian populations, including activities that promote democracy, ethnic tolerance, and respect for human rights.[10]

International organizations need to find ways to enshrine the principles of tolerance in policy. For instance, the United Nations has already created The Declaration of Moral Principles on Tolerance, adopted and signed in Paris by UNESCO's 185 member states on Nov. 16, 1995, which qualifies tolerance as a moral, political, and legal requirement for individuals, groups, and states.[11]

Governments also should aim to institutionalize policies of tolerance. For example, in South Africa, the Education Ministry has advocated the integration of a public school tolerance curriculum into the classroom; the curriculum promotes a holistic approach to learning . The United States government has recognized one week a year as international education week, encouraging schools, organizations, institutions, and individuals to engage in projects and exchanges to heighten global awareness of cultural differences.

The Diaspora community can also play an important role in promoting and sustaining tolerance. They can provide resources to ease tensions and affect institutional policies in a positive way. For example, Jewish, Irish, and Islamic communities have contributed to the peacebuilding effort within their places of origin from their places of residence in the United States. [12]

When Sarah wrote this essay in 2003, social media existed, but it hadn't yet become popular or widespread.  Facebook and Twitter hadn't started yet (Facebook started in 2004, Twitter in 2006.) 

In addition, while the conflict between the right and the left and the different races certainly existed in the United States, it was not nearly as escalated or polarized as it is now in 2019.  For those reasons (and others), the original version of this essay didn't discuss political or racial tolerance or intolerance in the United States.  Rather than re-writing the original essay, all of which is still valid, I have chosen to update it with these "Current Implications." 

In 2019, the intolerance between the Left and the Right in the United States has gotten extreme. Neither side is willing to accept the legitimacy of the values, beliefs, or actions of the other side, and they are not willing to tolerate those values, beliefs or actions whatsoever. That means, in essence, that they will not tolerate the people who hold those views, and are doing everything they can to disempower, delegitimize, and in some cases, dehumanize the other side.

Further, while intolerance is not new, efforts to spread and strengthen it have been greatly enhanced with the current day traditional media and social media environments: the proliferation of cable channels that allow narrowcasting to particular audiences, and Facebook and Twitter (among many others) that serve people only information that corresponds to (or even strengthens) their already biased views. The availability of such information channels both helps spread intolerance; it also makes the effects of that intolerance more harmful.

Intolerance and its correlaries (disempowerment, delegitimization, and dehumanization) are perhaps clearest on the right, as the right currently holds the U.S. presidency and controls the statehouses in many states.  This gives them more power to assert their views and disempower, delegitimize and dehumanize the other.  (Consider the growing restrictions on minority voting rights, the delegitimization of transgendered people and supporters, and the dehumanizing treatment of would-be immigrants at the southern border.) 

But the left is doing the same thing when it can.  By accusing the right of being "haters," the left delegitimizes the right's values and beliefs, many of which are not borne of animus, but rather a combination of bad information being spewed by fake news in social and regular media, and natural neurobiological tendencies which cause half of the population to be biologically more fearful, more reluctant to change, and more accepting of (and needing) a strong leader. 

Put together, such attitudes feed upon one another, causing an apparently never-ending escalation and polarization spiral of intolerance.  Efforts to build understanding and tolerance, just as described in the original article, are still much needed today both in the United States and across the world. 

The good news is that many such efforts exist.  The Bridge Alliance , for instance, is an organization of almost 100 member organizations which are working to bridge the right-left divide in the U.S.  While the Bridge Alliance doesn't use the term "tolerance" or "coexistence" in its framing " Four Principles ," they do call for U.S. leaders and the population to "work together" to meet our challenges.  "Working together" requires not only "tolerance for " and "coexistence with" the other side; it also requires respect for other people's views. That is something that many of the member organizations are trying to establish with red-blue dialogues, public fora, and other bridge-building activities.  We need much, much more of that now in 2019 if we are to be able to strengthen tolerance against the current intolerance onslaught.

One other thing we'd like to mention that was touched upon in the original article, but not explored much, is what can and should be done when the views or actions taken by the other side are so abhorent that they cannot and should not be tolerated? A subset of that question is one Sarah did pose above '"How can we be tolerant of those who are intolerant of us?"[3] For many, tolerating intolerance is neither acceptable nor possible." Sarah answers that by arguing that tolerance is beneficial--by implication, even in those situations. 

What she doesn't explicitly consider, however, is the context of the intolerance.  If one is considering the beliefs or behavior of another that doesn't affect anyone else--a personal decision to live in a particular way (such as following a particular religion for example), we would agree that tolerance is almost always beneficial, as it is more likely to lead to interpersonal trust and further understanding. 

However, if one is considering beliefs or actions of another that does affect other people--particularly actions that affect large numbers of people, then that is a different situation.  We do not tolerate policies that allow the widespread dissemination of fake news and allow foreign governments to manipulate our minds such that they can manipulate our elections.  That, in our minds is intolerable.  So too are actions that destroy the rule of law in this country; actions that threaten our democratic system.

But that doesn't mean that we should respond to intolerance in kind.  Rather, we would argue, one should respond to intolerance with respectful dissent--explaining why the intolerance is unfairly stereotyping an entire group of people; explaining why such stereotyping is both untrue and harmful; why a particular action is unacceptable because it threatens the integrity of our democratic system, explaining alternative ways of getting one's needs met. 

This can be done without attacking the people who are guilty of intolerance with direct personal attacks--calling them "haters," or shaming them for having voted a particular way.  That just hardens the other sides' intolerance. 

Still, reason-based arguments probably won't be accepted right away.  Much neuroscience research explains that emotions trump facts and that people won't change their minds when presented with alternative facts--they will just reject those facts.  But if people are presented with facts in the form of respectful discussion instead of personal attacks, that is both a factual and an emotional approach that can help de-escalate tensions and eventually allow for the development of tolerance.  Personal attacks on the intolerant will not do that.  So when Sarah asked whether one should tolerate intolerance, I would say "no, one should not." But that doesn't mean that you have to treat the intolerant person disrespectfully or "intolerantly."  Rather, model good, respectful behavior.  Model the behavior you would like them to adopt.  And use that to try to fight the intolerance, rather than simply "tolerating it." 

-- Heidi and Guy Burgess. December, 2019.

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[1] The American Heritage Dictionary (New York: Dell Publishing, 1994).

[2] William Ury, Getting To Peace (New York: The Penguin Group, 1999), 127.

[3] As identified by Serge Schmemann, a New York Times columnist noted in his piece of Dec. 29, 2002, in The New York Times entitled "The Burden of Tolerance in a World of Division" that tolerance is a burden rather than a blessing in today's society.

[4] Jannie Malan, "From Exclusive Aversion to Inclusive Coexistence," Short Paper, African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), Conference on Coexistence Community Consultations, Durban, South Africa, January 2003, 6.

[5] As noted by Susan Sachs, a New York Times columnist in her piece of Dec. 16, 2001, in The New York Times entitled "In One Muslim Land, an Effort to Enforce Lessons of Tolerance."

[6] Amber Hague, "Attitudes of high school students and teachers towards Muslims and Islam in a southeaster Australian community," Intercultural Education 2 (2001): 185-196.

[7] Yehuda Amir, "Contact Hypothesis in Ethnic Relations," in Weiner, Eugene, eds. The Handbook of Interethnic Coexistence (New York: The Continuing Publishing Company, 2000), 162-181.

[8] The Ukrainian Centre for Common Ground has launched a successful restorative justice project. Information available on-line at .

[9] Neve Shalom homepage [on-line]; available at ; Internet.

[10] Lessons in Tolerance after Conflict.

[11] "A Global Quest for Tolerance" [article on-line] (UNESCO, 1995, accessed 11 February 2003); available at ; Internet.

[12] Louis Kriesberg, "Coexistence and the Reconciliation of Communal Conflicts." In Weiner, Eugene, eds. The Handbook of Interethnic Coexistence (New York: The Continuing Publishing Company, 2000), 182-198.

Use the following to cite this article: Peterson, Sarah. "Tolerance." Beyond Intractability . Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2003 < >.

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Jefferson M Fish Ph.D.

  • Personality

Tolerance, Acceptance, Understanding

...and how they differ in everyday life and in research..

Posted February 25, 2014 | Reviewed by Davia Sills

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Many of my blog columns aim at clarifying concepts or shedding new light on them. For example, I have posted dozens of pieces on the race concept, aimed at disentangling biology from culture (e.g., " What Race Is George Zimmerman? "); and my book, The Myth of Race , discusses the race concept from multiple perspectives.

Occasionally, I also compare concepts related to each other—for example, envy and jealousy —for the insights that result. That is what I would like to do here, by considering tolerance and acceptance and then thinking about them in relation to understanding.

Let’s begin with some abbreviated Wikipedia definitions:

Tolerance is a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.

Acceptance in human psychology is a person's assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it, protest, or exit .

Tolerance is a virtue. It is a version of the golden rule in that, insofar as we want others to treat us decently, we need to treat them decently as well. It is also a pragmatic formula for the functioning of society, as we can see in the omnipresent wars between different religions, political ideologies, nationalities, ethnic groups, and other us-versus-them divisions. It is a basis for the First Amendment protections that enabled the United States to avoid the religious strife that plagued Europe for centuries. (And it is a reason to be skeptical of slogans such as “Zero Tolerance.”)

Acceptance goes a step beyond tolerance. If a sign of tolerance is a feeling of “I can live with X (behavior, religion, race, culture, etc.),” then acceptance moves beyond that in the direction of “X is OK.” You can tolerate something without accepting it, but you cannot accept something without tolerating it. For example, when a son or daughter tells a parent about an unwelcome career choice, marital partner, or sexual identity , he or she wants that information not just to be tolerated, but to be accepted.

Moving beyond tolerance and acceptance, we come to a third concept: understanding . Here is Wikipedia’s shortened definition:

Understanding is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical object, such as a person, situation, or message, whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to deal adequately with that object.

Here is the problem. It is possible to tolerate or accept someone without understanding him or her, and the same goes for tolerating or accepting a different culture. And the converse is also true. It is possible to understand a culture or a person without acceptance, or even tolerance—think, for example, of undercover spies.

It is good to know that some people are impressively free from prejudice against those with whom they have had little or no contact (or even abstract knowledge), as part of a live-and-let-live attitude toward life.

Tolerance and/or acceptance are desirable, but they are not a substitute for understanding. They are relevant for getting along with others in the world (though understanding helps), but understanding is essential for the social and behavioral sciences

This latter point may seem obvious, but it is not universally recognized in cross-cultural research. Some studies are done in the following manner:

1. An English-language personality test developed in the United States is translated into several languages.

2. The test is given to people (usually college students) in a variety of countries and languages.

essay about tolerance

3. The results are interpreted as showing specific average personality differences among cultures.

The problem with such research is that there is no research on the test in many or all of the countries studied, and there is no way of knowing whether the personality dimensions measured even exist in those cultures. For example, one could develop a test of “Americanism” and get the results for 20 countries. This would allow researchers to rank cultures on that variable, even though it is irrelevant to their existence.

I remember visiting China a number of years ago when a psychology professor there discussed his research on the “ Big Five ” personality dimensions ( openness -to-experience, conscientiousness , extraversion , agreeableness , and neuroticism —OCEAN). Many American psychologists believe that these are fundamental dimensions of personality. Yet my Chinese colleague said that his research had not found a dimension of openness, but had found a dimension of face-saving. So we can see that scores of Americans on the dimension of face-saving would be as culturally meaningless in the United States as scores of Chinese on openness-to-experience are in China.

It is good that some researchers are tolerant and accepting of other cultures, but these positive attitudes do not provide a shortcut to understanding the cultures that they include in their research.

Jefferson M Fish Ph.D.

Jefferson M. Fish, Ph.D. , is a Professor Emeritus of psychology at St. John's University. He has authored and edited 12 books, including The Myth of Race .

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Tolerance and Respect for Cultural Differences Essay

Introduction, organization of the essay, tolerance and respect in relation to cultural diversities, reasons why tolerance and respect solve societal challenges, recommendations and conclusion, works cited, background information.

Conflict is the most common form of challenge facing the human population today. An in-depth analysis of interactions between people from different backgrounds reveals that the said conflict is as a result of societal diversities. The diversities include differences in, among others, social status, race, affiliations to ethnic groups, and political beliefs. According to Agius and Ambrosewicz (1), the diversities in any given society are brought about by cultural variations.

In this essay, the author seeks to provide a solution for these conflicts in a bid to promote peaceful coexistence among people from different cultural and social backgrounds.

Thesis Statement

Tolerance and respect help to reduce conflicts in multicultural societies .

Most contemporary societies are characterized by cultural diversities. The differences are increased by globalization, where physical and geographical borders have reduced and movement of people increased. Tolerance and respect for these diversities is the only way through which people from different backgrounds can live peacefully. The author of this paper bases their arguments on the sentiments held by Basso (7). Basso provides solutions on how to deal with diversity in a society. The author relies on Basso to support the thesis statement in light of the readings specified for this course. A number of factors that support tolerance and respect for diversity are clearly outlined in this essay. In addition, the author of this essay illustrates how the said respect and tolerance can be realized.

The essay is divided into three major sections. The first section constitutes the introduction where an overview of the essay is outlined. The second section is made up of the body of the essay. The definition of terms, position of the author on the subject matter, and justifications for the arguments made is contained in this section. The author concludes the essay in the third section by revisiting the thesis statement and highlighting the various approaches used to develop attitudes that promote respect and tolerance. The conclusion borrows heavily from the course readings as outlined by Basso (4).

Definition of Terms

Tolerance draws its philosophical meanings from the accommodation of divergent behaviors in a given society. Agius and Ambrosewicz (11) argue that this concept can be regarded as the formula required for the peaceful coexistence of a socially and culturally divergent people. The two scholars point out that diversity in a society can be brought about by many factors. For instance, the society today is characterized by individuals from various ethnic backgrounds. Such individuals come together to form groups that exhibit diversities with regards to race and ethnicity. Religion is also another reason that brings about divergence in a society.

For example, the American society is made up of people from Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and other religious groups. Tolerance can be viewed as the adhesive that holds people together and helps them to live harmoniously despite their cultural differences. It averts conflicts, which may lead to societal disintegration. Conflicts consume a lot of resources that could have been used to promote the society economically and socially. For example, money, time, and human resources are used to resolve disagreements that arise among people in the society.

Tolerance is closely related to the concept of universal equality. Agius and Ambrosewicz (11) argue that a single group in a society can claim superiority over others. For example, the whites can hold the opinion that they are superior to blacks, Hispanics, and other minority groups. Tolerance comes in to address these issues. It promotes the acceptance of other people’s rights to exist regardless of the cultural differences. Basso uses the narrative Number Our Days to illustrate this notion.

Respect and cultural diversity

Respect refers to the way an individual regards other people in the society. In the opinions of Agius and Ambrosewicz (17), this concept is considered as the conduct of an individual with regards to the ethical traits of another person or group. In the matrix of a multicultural society, there are bound to be differences in behavior owing to varying cultural backgrounds. Under such circumstances, respect is seen as the manner in which one party in the society treats their counterparts. It overlooks the biases that would result from the diversity in the community.

Respect and Tolerance

From the definitions provided above, it is evident that the two terms are closely related, especially with regards to cultural diversity. Agius and Ambrosewicz (19) argue that tolerance results from the respect that an individual has towards the diversities evident in the society. Similarly, respect relies on the understanding that people are entitled to their behaviors. The author of this essay relies on this relationship to make arguments in support of development of attitudes that enhance respect and tolerance for diversity.

Solving Societal Challenges in Light of Cultural Diversities

In the previous sections of this essay, the author suggested that attitudes that promote respect and tolerance can solve many of the challenges threatening cohesion and coexistence in the society. As envisaged by Agius and Ambrosewicz (12), conflict is the most common challenge facing a multicultural civilization. The central argument in this essay agrees with the notion that the attitudes supporting respect and tolerance go a long way in solving societal problems, including conflicts. In this regard, several cases of intolerance and disrespect are examined to outline their negative impacts on the society.

A multicultural civilization can be regarded as one that is defined by the existence of people from different racial and cultural backgrounds. By virtue of their ethnic diversity, the individuals are likely to hold clashing schools of thought. For example, the natives may hold religious and political views that are different from those promoted by the whites. The variations are likely to create frictions between these two groups. The demographics of the various racial and ethnic groups vary. In light of these demographics, the dominant group tends to feel superior to the minority class. Agius and Ambrosewicz (13) give an example of racial profiling in Europe and America, some of the most advanced nations in the civilized world. Caucasians are the dominant race in these two societies. As a result, people from other races have received prejudicial treatment in these communities.

Racism is one of the major effects of ethnic diversities in a society. The phenomenon is brought about by the perception that Caucasians are superior to other races, such as the blacks and Hispanics. The act is a classic example of disrespect and intolerance with regards to diversity (Basso 29). Based on the definition of tolerance, it is evident that intolerance is the direct opposite of this concept. A group of people may consider others as unworthy of certain privileges. An example of such kind of intolerance exhibited itself in America where African Americans were denied several rights owing to the color of their skin. The result was a bloody struggle for freedom.

History is replete with several accounts and cases where tolerance and respect for diversity provided solutions to many conflicts. Agius and Ambrosewicz (21) make reference to the gradual decline of sexism. For a long time, most societies believed that men were superior to women. Religions like Christianity and Islam had doctrines that suggested women were inferior to men. Consequently, women were denied certain rights. For instance, in Europe, women were not allowed to vote. However, through dialogue and respect for equality, the group was eventually allowed to exercise this right.

Discrimination is often a manifestation of intolerance and disrespect. Societies that do not embrace tolerance are torn apart by conflicts (Basso 43). Racism and sexism are some of the attitudes that have changed significantly over the years. The shifts in attitudes have led to various changes in the society. For instance, it is now common for an African American to take a Caucasian woman for a wife without societal uproar. Such are the ‘attitudinal’ changes that made it possible for the United States of America to elect a black president for two terms.

The peaceful coexistence between people from different backgrounds is better than conflict. In their analysis of tolerance, Agius and Ambrosewicz (11) argue that conflict is resolved by changes in attitude. The two argue that human existence can be traced back to more than 3000 years ago. However, societies have spent more time in conflicts than in actual peaceful coexistence. That notwithstanding, many of the conflicts were resolved with the help of dialogues. In The Spirit Catches You , Basso (45) suggests that dialogue is an attribute of respect towards others.

As a societal challenge, conflict is not attractive. The many wars experienced in the past support this assertion by Agius and Ambrosewicz (4). It is expensive for a society to comfortably enjoy life amidst conflicts. During was, for instance, basic amenities become scarce. To achieve these social amenities, peaceful coexistence is a requirement. A look at attitudinal shifts reveals that very few resources are spent to achieve coexistence. As such, attitudes that enhance respect and tolerance are inexpensive ways of resolving conflicts.

Another reason why these attitudes are a solution to societal challenges is the importance of peaceful coexistence. Agius and Ambrosewicz (18) argue that an increase in the size of global population highlights the need for coexistence. Land is not increasing. It remains static as population size rises. As such, it is important for people to coexist in harmony. Through tolerance, people are able to appreciate their diversity and share the available resources without bias. However, in the absence of tolerance and respect, chaos would reign and nobody stands to benefit. Basso (45) makes a similar assertion in the narrative The Spirit Catches You.


The discussions in this essay have expounded on the challenges facing humanity. The illustrations about the negative effects of conflict have made it necessary to address attitudinal changes in the society. Agius and Ambrosewicz (23) argue that tolerance and respect are the responses needed to address the problems associated with multicultural societies. Globalization comes with diversities, making it necessary for people to adjust their attitudes. In light of this, the report makes the following recommendations:

Future generations require peace if they are to enjoy their life. The thesis statement envisages tolerance and respect as the key to ending conflict. Education can be used to promote tolerance and respect (Agius and Ambrosewicz 23). People should be taught about the importance of equality. A comprehensive form of education is needed to help the public understand the benefits of diversity. The education should be viewed as beneficial, not as a threat.


The author of this essay finds that intolerance may be brought about by legal loopholes. It is important for societies to ensure that intolerance and disrespect are treated as crimes. According to Agius and Ambrosewicz (24), punitive measures are important in phasing out criminal activities. As such, if intolerance and disrespect are criminalized, individuals may begin to appreciate each others’ diversity.

Conflict is one of the problems facing people in a multicultural society. Depending on the background of different individuals, biases are bound to occur when there are divergences in terms of culture (Basso 47). Tolerance and respect are attitudes that can help people appreciate their diversity. Rather than viewing people from different cultures as threats, tolerance and respect helps to illustrate the benefits of the same. Diversity in a multicultural society has a lot of benefits. However, the only way to exploit these benefits is by allowing tolerance and respect to thrive.

Agius, Emmanuel, and Jolanta Ambrosewicz. Towards a Culture of Tolerance and Peace, Montreal: International Bureau for Children Rights, 2003. Print.

Basso, Keith 1984, Course on Language and Thought in Native American Cultures , Yale University, School of Social Sciences. Print.

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Tolerance Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Tolerance , People , Belief , Respect , Society , Sociology , Religion , Behavior

Words: 1925

Published: 2020/12/28

Introduction If there is one problem that has plagued the human race for a long time, then it is tolerance. The human race is made up of a diverse range of individuals coming from all walks of life. These individuals espouse different characteristics, values, and beliefs. It is these differences that have often acted as an impetus for societal clashes and intolerance. Some cultural groups in the society cannot simply tolerate the values of each other. They disapprove of these cultural values and beliefs and have no qualms letting the other group know it. This then often leads to societal clashes. However, intolerance does not only occur across different cultural and social groups in the society. It can also occur between individuals in the society, some even from the same social group. This mainly occurs when one individual disapproves the other’s life choices, behaviors, attitudes, and values. Normally, intolerance is accompanied by lack of respect where individuals lose the respect they have for each other. This once again sets up a lot of individual clashes in the society. Ultimately, no one desires to see clashes in the society. The question that has therefore been asked by many philosophers is whether humans begins should exhibit tolerance towards people that they disapprove in order to show them respect or whether they should tolerate because they cannot simply bring themselves to respect them. This is indeed a contentious issue that has been explored and touched on by a relatively large number of authors. Some have explored the aspect of tolerance and what it exactly entails. Others have looked at the limits of tolerance and the situations where it is applicable and not applicable (Williams & Waldron, 2008). What emerges from all this literature is that tolerance is actually a subjective term that exhibits a lot of dynamism across different society contexts. What may, for example, be tolerable in one society may not necessarily be tolerable in another society. Tolerance also varies from one individual to the other. There are some levels of disapproval where tolerance is impossible. An individual may loathe the other so much that tolerating them is simply impossible. Alternatively, the behavior of one individual may be viewed by another so negative that once again, tolerance is impossible. The absence of tolerance can be accompanied by two specific scenarios. One, the individual who disapproves of the other’s behaviors may choose to simply walk away and never interact with that individual again (Scanlon, 2003). Simply put, the individual may cut the ties between him and the other individual completely because he simply cannot tolerate the other. In the second scenario, the individual who disapproves of the other may choose to confront them. Once again, confrontation is a subjective term. It can mean verbal confrontation or physical confrontation. Verbal confrontation is where the individual makes it known to the other why they disapprove their behavior attitude and values. Unfortunately, emotions might get high during the verbal confirmation, and this may translate to the individuals physically confronting each other by fighting. This can have disastrous effects for both parties, and they may end up injuring each other or worse still killing each other. However, the consequence for the first type of intolerance which constitutes walking away are less severe (McKinnon, 2005). In fact, some consider it be the noble thing to do when one does not approve of the other, whether it is their behavior, their attitude, their values or even their entire being. The conventional definition of tolerance is a deliberate choice to either put up or leave alone what one disapproves of dislikes when one actually has the power to react or act otherwise. It is usually a matter of degree (Scanlon, 2003). For example, one might actually leave the object or aspect of tolerance alone or one might actually choose to subject this object to ridicule criticism, pressure, social sanctions, physical force and persecution (Horton & Mendus, 1985) The issue of tolerance has in fact been debated for a long time, right from the days of John Locke who is in his famous manuscript “A Letter concerning Toleration” called for religious tolerance among various society groups of the time. Locke wrote his letter when England was cutting down its ties with the Roman Catholic Church and making Protestantism as the official religion. His principal claim in this manuscript was that the government, or the state authority should not attempt to use force in order to make citizens subscribe to a certain religion that the government considers to be the true religion (Locke, 1689). He also claimed that religious organizations and entities are voluntary in nature and, therefore, they have absolutely no right to use any form of coercive power over their member or even those who are not members. Simply put, Locke’s main arguments that force should never be used as a way of instilling beliefs to people who do not subscribe to these beliefs. In addition, people should not be persecuted for subscribing to a certain set of beliefs (Locke, 1689). Locke’s logic and model is applicable to not only the religious context but also across various other societal contexts. His logic can be interpreted as calling for respect and tolerance for the people whose beliefs are different. In fact, tolerance and respect go in hand in hand. Respect means that even if one may disagree with the belief and behaviors of the other, as long as they do not affect the being of one, the one has to respect the other. There are various things in the society that elicit tolerance and non-tolerance. As mentioned earlier, these include practices, ideologies, and beliefs, ethnic, social and religious groups among others. As it has been shown tolerance to some simply translates to putting up with. Respect, on the other hand, refers to feelings of deep admiration for an individual who has achieved something (McKinnon, 2005). This is often elicited by the achievements or the qualities of another individual.

It is, however, crucial to understand that there is indeed a huge difference between tolerance and respect.

Keen analysis reveals that tolerance alone is associated with some kind of ingenuity. People often use the term to show that they are acceptive of other cultures or values but do have any respect for them. This is a very biased approach given that in many cases, people do not actually take the time to learn why some people subscribe to certain behaviors. Members of the social liberal movement would perhaps argue that people are all the same and then being truly liberal translates to accepting that people are unique and different and that there is nothing wrong with this (Kukathas, 2003).

Being truly liberal also means respecting other people for their differences and not simply tolerating them (Kukathas, 2003).

A person can tolerate something but not welcome it. This then has the potential to make certain groups in the society or certain people in the society to feel weak and inferior. In fact, when keenly analyzed, tolerating comes off as quite disrespectful and demeaning. This is especially in regards to human beings. It may appear like it has the best intentions, but in reality, it does not and is in fact quite demeaning. The lifestyles and cultures are something to be tolerated but should instead be respected. As it has been emphasized, to say that one tolerates something brings out some form of bigotry. Tolerating is also not something final. One can tolerate something for some time, and when another time arrives, one may decide that they no longer want to tolerate that thing, and this is when conflict emerges (Heyd, 1996). Respect, on the other hand, is final. Unlike tolerance, one does not have to pretend to like or even welcome something. By respecting, it means that one acknowledges the difference in values views and beliefs and also acknowledges the right of the people to have these views. It is also means accepting that one may not be always right and that it is proper to give or provide room for other views and beliefs that may, in the long run, tend to be more accurate. Therefore, although one may not necessarily welcome the opposing views, respect means that one is mature enough to acknowledge that they exist. This becomes essential in not only comprehending a concept from several perspectives, but it also helps people to understand their own beliefs and views better (Kymlicka, 1995). For example, encountering a differing view and respecting it enables one to go back to his or her own view, gauge it with the differing view and try to assess the correctness of this view. In such a case, the answer is never definite and because of the presence of respect, one is able to leave it at that, unlike saying that one tolerates something only for this tolerance to wear off one day and for the person then to start confronting the other, perhaps even physically and then leading to unwanted results like societal clashes and injuries (McKinnon & Castiglione, 2003). John Stuart Mill is another famous philosopher who has explored the issue of tolerance. His 1869 essay “On Liberty” addresses the issue of liberty, and his logic can also be applied to other differing societal values, beliefs, and opinions. In fact, in this essay, he advocates for tolerance on not only religious differences but other aspects of life as well. Mills argues that the toleration in modern societies is actually required in order to cope with the many forms of irreconcilable social, political and cultural plurality. Mills provides three main arguments or points for toleration. In regard to the harm principle, he contends that the exercise of social or political power can only be legitimate if it is required to prevent the harming of one individual by another and not to enforce as specific idea of good or superiority in a manner that is paternalistic (Mills, 1859). His second point is that toleration towards varying opinions receives justification from the utilitarian concept or belief that both false and true opinions actually lead to social learning processes that are highly productive. The final argument brought forth by Mill is that toleration of experiments of living that are usual is in justifiable romantically because it stresses the values of originality and individuality which are natural urges in all human beings (Mills, 1859). Some may argue for example that tolerating and respecting people and ideas are two different things. For example, an argument may be brought forth that one can respect other people but when it comes to their ideas, tolerance is enough. However, double standards should not be applied. The situation can perhaps be helped by understanding that ideas do not exist on their own. They do not exist out of people’s minds and, in fact, for one to gain knowledge on differing ideas; one often has to hear them from s second person show believes in them. Therefore, it would not be proper to substantiate ideas from people and when it comes to respect, it should be applied generally to only people but to their ideas as well since they are one and the same (Kymlicka, 1995). The current society is characterized by the plurality of ideas, views and opinions on almost everything. The same society is also characterized by a host of social, cultural and political differences as well individuals’ differences between people. These differences often lead to disapproval, and when this occurs, people can either choose to tolerate or respect these differences. This essay has shown that simply tolerating, although helpful in some situations, is not as effective as respecting differing views, behaviors or values. Tolerance may wear off in the future, but respect is final and in addition to preventing conflict and social clashes, it enables persons to understand concepts from different perspectives and also analyze their own views and opinions. Therefore, respect should always take precedence over tolerance.

Scanlon, Timothy, 2003. The Difficulty of Tolerance. Essays in Political Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 187–201. Kukathas, Chandran. 2003. The Liberal Archipelago: A Theory of Diversity and Freedom, Oxford: Oxford University Press. McKinnon, Catriona. 2005. Toleration: A Critical Introduction, London & New York: Routledge. Heyd, David. 1996. Toleration: An Elusive Virtue. Princeton: Princeton University Press; Horton, John & Mendus., Susan. 1985., Aspects of Toleration: Philosophical Studies. London: Methuen. Susan Mendus., 1999. The Politics of Toleration: Tolerance and Intolerance in Modern Life. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. McKinnon, Catriona & Castiglione, Dario. 2003. The Culture of Toleration in Diverse Societies: Reasonable Toleration. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press. Williams, Melissa S & Waldron. Jeremy. 2008. Toleration and Its Limits. New York & London: New York University Press. Locke John., 1689. A Letter Concerning Toleration. Mill, John Stuart., 1859. On Liberty. Kymlicka, Will. 1995. Multicultural Citizenship. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Essays on Tolerance

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A New Approach to the Study of Tolerance: Conceptualizing and Measuring Acceptance, Respect, and Appreciation of Difference

  • Original Research
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  • Published: 09 September 2019
  • Volume 147 , pages 897–919, ( 2020 )

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  • Mikael Hjerm   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Maureen A. Eger   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Andrea Bohman   ORCID: 1 &
  • Filip Fors Connolly 1  

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Previous empirical research on tolerance suffers from a number of shortcomings, the most serious being the conceptual and operational conflation of (in)tolerance and prejudice. We design research to remedy this. First, we contribute to the literature by advancing research that distinguishes analytically between the two phenomena. We conceptualize tolerance as a value orientation towards difference. This definition—which is abstract and does not capture attitudes towards specific out-groups, ideas, or behaviors—allows for the analysis of tolerance within and between societies. Second, we improve the measurement of tolerance by developing survey items that are consistent with this conceptualization. We administer two surveys, one national (Sweden) and one cross-national (Australia, Denmark, Great Britain, Sweden, and the United States). Results from structural equation models show that tolerance is best understood as a three-dimensional concept, which includes acceptance of, respect for, and appreciation of difference. Analyses show that measures of tolerance have metric invariance across countries, and additional tests demonstrate convergent and discriminant validity. We also assess tolerance’s relationship to prejudice and find that only an appreciation of difference has the potential to reduce prejudice. We conclude that it is not only possible to measure tolerance in a way that is distinct from prejudice but also necessary if we are to understand the causes and consequences of tolerance.

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1 Introduction

Tolerance is generally understood as a necessary component of a functioning democracy and stable world order. Indeed, the Preamble of the United Nations Charter (UN 1945 ) declares the intention of its member states “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours.” Later, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO 1995 ) clarified the meaning of tolerance. According to Article 1.1., “[t]olerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human…Tolerance is harmony in difference.”

Tolerance is often invoked as something to which individuals and societies should aspire, especially given diversity, in all its forms, is increasingly a feature of contemporary democracies. When tensions arise, some leaders call for a “greater tolerance” of particular groups or encourage general efforts to become “a more tolerant society.” For example, in 2004, then Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan said, “Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected” (United Nations 2004 ). According to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, “Tolerance is an act of humanity, which we must nurture and enact each in our own lives every day, to rejoice in the diversity that makes us strong and the values that bring us together” (UNESCO 1996 ). Yet, what does this mean in practice? That those who hold prejudicial attitudes should fight against their dislike of particular out-groups? That everyone should respect others’ values or attitudes even when they are contrary to their own? That society should always value or embrace diversity? Leaders rarely give answers to these questions. Unfortunately, science does not provide much guidance either.

Over 40 years ago, Ferrar ( 1976 :63) proclaimed, “The concept of tolerance is in a state of disarray.” According to Ferrar, tolerance has multiple dimensions, but the empirically oriented literature primarily emphasizes one: negative attitudes towards out-groups. She argues that when scholars rely on indicators of prejudice towards social groups or discrimination in their analyses of tolerance, they imply that “tolerance and its opposite are sufficiently described by reference to categoric prejudgments of minority groups and their members” (p. 67). We take this argument one step further and contend that incorporating prejudice into the meaning or measurement of tolerance makes the concept of tolerance analytically indistinguishable from prejudice, confusing what tolerance is and how it differs from dislike, disapproval, or disgust with specific out-groups. Despite a great deal of empirical research on tolerance over the past 40 years, some of which includes overt efforts to clarify the concept, this disarray persists. We claim that the central problem continues to be the conflation—explicit or implicit—of prejudice and (in)tolerance, either in conceptualization or operationalization.

Despite problems in the scientific literature, it is generally accepted that tolerance is something necessary for democracies. As Kuklinski et al. ( 1991 :3) note: “Few aspects of political life so directly and immediately touch upon the daily lives of common citizens as does their tolerance toward each other.” Footnote 1 To answer some of the pressing, if not existential questions facing multiethnic, democratic societies today, we need a clearer understanding of tolerance—what it is and what it isn’t. And, before we can begin to assess its impact on various aspects of social, economic, and political life, we need better tools to measure it.

In the sections that follow, we begin with a review of previous empirical research on tolerance. Then, based on scholarship on toleration, we advance a conceptualization of tolerance that is abstract as well as analytically separate from other concepts. Specifically, we define tolerance as a value orientation towards difference . Next, we develop new measures to operationalize three aspects of tolerance. Importantly, these measures do not include references to specific social or political out-groups or particular types of attitudes or behaviors. Instead, the items capture acceptance of, respect for, and appreciation of difference in the abstract. We administer a survey twice—first using a random sample of the Swedish population and second using an online format in Australia, Denmark, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States. After validating our measures empirically, we demonstrate their relationship to prejudice and other variables. We conclude with a discussion of our results, their contributions, limitations, as well as practical implications.

2 Previous Approaches to the Study of Tolerance

In general, two broad conceptualizations of tolerance exist. The first approach understands tolerance as a permissive attitude towards a disliked out-group. Thus, this conceptualization begins with the notion that in order to be tolerant one first has to be prejudiced. Previous research from this tradition incorporates the dislike of out-groups into the measurement of tolerance. We critique this approach on both theoretical and methodological grounds. The second approach defines tolerance as a positive response to diversity itself. This conceptualization is analytically distinct from prejudice and lays the foundation for superior operationalization. However, previous studies that begin with this definition have nevertheless relied on measures of prejudice in their analyses, which means our understanding of tolerance remains limited. Thus, our critique of this approach is primarily methodological. In the sections that follow, we examine these approaches to tolerance in greater detail and discuss their theoretical and empirical implications.

2.1 Tolerance as Phenomenon Dependent on Prejudice

The first conceptualization of tolerance can be summarized as: Person X is tolerant if Person X dislikes Person Y doing Z. Person X has the means to prevent Person Y from doing Z, but Person X refrains from doing so. Therefore, in order to tolerate someone or something, one first needs to experience disapproval or dislike, and then despite these negative sentiments exhibit permissiveness or acceptance. Tolerance in this sense implies “forbearance” or the readiness to “put up with” with what one dislikes (Rapp and Freitag 2015 ; Robinson et al. 2001 ; Sullivan et al. 1979 ; Verkuyten and Slooter 2007 ).

To “put up with” in political terms translates into allowing the expression of objectionable ideas (Sullivan et al. 1979 ), or more specifically, to extend social rights related to political participation and freedom of speech to groups one dislikes or disagrees with (Mondak and Sanders 2005 ; Rapp 2017 ). The “objection criteria” is at the core of this conceptualization, as “… one cannot tolerate ideas of which one approves (Gibson 2006 , p. 22).” Tolerance, in this sense, is a sequential or twofold concept (Rapp and Freitag 2015 ), where the crux of the matter is the initial position of like or dislike.

This understanding of tolerance is theoretically problematic for two reasons. First, by this definition, the existence of tolerance depends on the existence of prejudice. People who are not prejudiced are incapable of being tolerant let alone becoming more tolerant. Moreover, we can only gauge if society has become more tolerant by knowing if a society has become less prejudiced. Second, this definition excludes reactions to the mere existence of out-groups. In theory, an individual must have the capacity to prevent what is disliked in order to demonstrate tolerance. Because the presence of racial and ethnic out-groups is likely beyond any one person’s control, it becomes theoretically impossible to be tolerant of this type of diversity. Beyond these theoretical shortcomings, we also argue that this understanding of tolerance necessarily leads to the empirical conflation of tolerance and prejudice.

Many empirical studies of tolerance begin with the assumption that particular groups are widely disliked or, at the very least, viewed with skepticism (Bobo and Licari 1989 ; van Doorn 2016 ; Gibson and Bingham 1982 ; Gibson 1998 ). An important example is Stouffer’s ( 1955 ) seminal work on tolerating non-conformity (e.g., socialism and atheism) in the United States. In his study, examples of tolerance include the willingness to extend rights such as freedom of speech to these “non-conformist” groups. Verkuyten and Slooter ( 2007 ) study tolerance of Muslim beliefs and practices among Dutch teenagers. They motivate their choice of out-group with reference to the general status of Islam in Dutch society. The main issue with this “unpopular groups” strategy is that it is impossible to distinguish empirically between people who support rights for groups they dislike and people who support rights because they are positively disposed towards the group in question (Sullivan et al. 1979 ).

Sullivan et al. ( 1979 ) introduce the “least-liked” approach in part to avoid contaminating the measurement of tolerance with respondents’ attitudes towards specific groups. As they put it: “If we had merely asked all respondents whether communists should be allowed to hold public office, their responses would depend not only on their levels of tolerance, but also on their feelings toward communists” (p. 785). To establish initial dislike, Sullivan et al. ( 1979 ) measure respondents’ attitudes about various groups in society. After identifying a disliked, or least liked, group, the respondents report preferences regarding these group members’ participation in political and civic activities. Adopting the same strategy, Rapp ( 2017 ) first examines respondents’ attitudes towards groups that are ethnically, religiously, or culturally diverse from them. Anti-immigrant attitudes constitute the rejection component. She then restricts her sample only to those respondents who are prejudiced, because theoretically, they are the only ones who can be tolerant.

We argue that neither strategy truly captures tolerance, because in both prejudice remains fundamental to the measurement of tolerance. Footnote 2 Thus, regardless of whether dislike is assumed, as in the unpopular group strategy, or measured, as in the least liked approach, empirical findings actually reflect respondents’ attitudes towards an out-group.

In summary, this first approach to the study of tolerance treats prejudice as a prerequisite for tolerance. Footnote 3 If dislike of an out-group is a precondition for tolerance, this means that in theory one cannot be tolerant without having been prejudiced at some earlier point in time. Conceptually there is a great deal of overlap between prejudice and tolerance, which inevitably extends to the measurement of tolerance (e.g., Kuklinski et al. 1991 ; Davis 1995 ; Gibson 1998 ; Verkuyten and Slooter 2007 ; Rapp and Ackermann 2016 ).

2.2 Tolerance as a Phenomenon Distinct from Prejudice

A second approach to analyzing tolerance does not begin with dislike of groups and instead focuses on subjective reactions to the existence of diverse values, behaviors, and lifestyles. Kirchner et al. ( 2011 :205) define tolerance as “the willingness to tolerate or accept persons or certain groups as well as their underlying values and behavior by means of a co-existence (even if they are completely different from one’s own).” Norris ( 2002 :158) defines tolerance as “the willingness to live and let live, to tolerate diverse lifestyles and political perspectives.” Dunn et al. ( 2009 :284) define tolerance “as a non-negative general orientation toward groups outside of one’s own.”

Some scholars make explicit that tolerance does not require prejudice. For example, Allport ( 1958 :398) points out while tolerance may mean putting up with something or someone one dislikes, such as a headache or a neighbor, “the term also has a more rugged meaning. We say that an individual who is on friendly terms with all sorts of people is a tolerant person. He makes no distinction of race, color, or creed. He not only endures but, in general, approves his fellow men.” By providing two examples of tolerance—one where the subject dislikes what he tolerates and one where he likes what he tolerates—Allport ( 1958 ) demonstrates not only that dislike is not fundamental to tolerance but also that it is unnecessary for tolerance. Chong ( 1994 :26) also argues that, based on this conception, is it is possible to tolerate things that we like. Thus, tolerance may be either to endure something or to show esteem for something.

As they do not begin with disliking a group of people, these definitions are more analytically distinct from prejudice. They emphasize reactions to diversity without specifically identifying marginalized social groups or indicating that individuals’ behaviors, values, or lifestyles are anything other than different from one’s own. However, some of these conceptualizations of tolerance incorporate the word tolerate or intolerance into its own definition. Moreover, some definitions equate acceptance with tolerance while others treat acceptance and tolerance as two different things. We maintain that while these definitions are more analytically distinct from the previous approach, they still lack conceptual clarity.

Nevertheless, previous research from this tradition has failed to operationalize tolerance in a manner consistent with its own definition. Put simply, these studies also incorporate prejudice into their measurement of tolerance. Persell et al. ( 2001 ) rely on five questions to measure tolerance. Two ask about attitudes towards homosexuals and three refer to African–Americans. Both Dunn et al. ( 2009 ) and Kirchner et al. ( 2011 ) use a long battery of measures found in the World Values Survey (WVS) to capture respondents’ willingness to have individuals from specific social groups as neighbors. These groups span from people of a different race to heavy drinkers to people with a criminal record. Kirchner et al. ( 2011 ) argue that by focusing on a multitude of groups, they are able to distinguish between individuals who tolerate only one “objectionable” group from those who tolerate many or all. While this approach does improve upon studies that analyze attitudes towards a few, specific groups, it still measures attitudes towards out-groups. In fact, according to Norris ( 2002 :158), this WVS scale “taps many of the most common types of narrow-mindedness and bigotry” (also cited in Kirchner et al. 2011 :205), put simply, prejudice.

Our critique of this strand of research is methodological. By incorporating prejudice into the measurement of tolerance, these previous studies do not analyze attitudes about the existence of diversity nor do they investigate an “orientation toward groups outside of one’s own” (Dunn et al. 2009 :284). Instead, they measure a willingness to accept specific groups as neighbors, which certainly speaks to how respondents feel about these groups and not diversity in general. Measuring attitudes towards a multitude of groups does not change this; these indices only tell us the extent to which one is prejudiced—in other words, if one is prejudiced towards one, two, or many, but always a subsample of out-groups. In summary, this conceptualization defines tolerance as a phenomenon distinct from prejudice and emphasizes reactions to diversity in all forms. However, previous research from this tradition has not measured tolerance in a way that is consistent with that definition.

2.3 Other Concerns: Abstraction and Multidimensionality

We have argued that incorporating elements of prejudice into the meaning and measurement of tolerance has rendered intolerance and prejudice conceptually and empirically indistinguishable. Yet there are other limitations to these two approaches that stem from a lack of abstraction. First, using attitudes about specific values, behaviors, lifestyles or social groups as indicators of tolerance makes it difficult to study tolerance longitudinally. The status of particular social groups changes over time due to a number of factors, including societal prejudice. Norms about what is acceptable to do, say, or believe also change. Linking tolerance to something specific means we can only measure whether positive or negative attitudes towards a specific entity have changed over time.

Second, by focusing on attitudes towards particular social or political groups, previous research has often conflated conservative beliefs with intolerance and liberal attitudes with tolerance. Ferrar ( 1976 :75–76) identifies this problem as originating with Stouffer’s index ( 1955 ), which connects tolerance to permissive attitudes regarding civil liberties of groups associated with the political left but not political right. It is, of course, theoretically possible to have a principled commitment to diversity while simultaneously holding conservative beliefs about political issues, just as it is also possible to oppose specific types of diversity and take liberal political stances. Although more recent studies incorporate attitudes towards a greater number of social groups (Dunn et al. 2009 ; Kirchner et al. 2011 ), this bias still exists.

Third, scholars that focus on attitudes towards groups not only conflate prejudice with tolerance but also disregard people’s ability to support diversity in the abstract. Sniderman et al. ( 1989 :27) call this outright dismissal of principled tolerance a deeply cynical and pessimistic view of “the willingness of the average citizen to embrace, disinterestedly and consistently, a foundational value of democratic politics—tolerance.” We contend that at the very least this is an empirical question worthy of investigation. Without measures of tolerance in the abstract, we simply do not know.

Finally, most previous empirical research neglects the multidimensionality of tolerance, although theoretical research on tolerance emphasizes this. Thinking about tolerance as an attitude towards diversity, Walzer ( 1997 ) argues that there are five types of tolerance that vary from resigned acceptance to aesthetic endorsement. Similarly, Forst ( 2013 ) claims that there are four types of tolerance, which range from acceptance to appreciation. Persell et al. ( 2001 :208) contend that complete tolerance would entail recognition and acceptance while a lesser version would be “an unwillingness to openly express intolerance.” Despite definitions that include a number of ways that tolerance can be expressed, subsequent empirical analyses treat tolerance as a unidimensional concept (e.g., Kirchner et al. 2011 ).

In summary, previous studies of tolerance suffer from one or more of the following three main problems: (1) conceptual overlap of tolerance and prejudice; (2) operational overlap of tolerance and prejudice; and (3) a lack of abstraction in the conceptualization and operationalization of tolerance. Moreover, previous empirical research has, for the most part, ignored the multidimensionality of tolerance, something emphasized in theoretical work. Therefore, in the next section, we advance a conception of tolerance and develop new measures of tolerance consistent with our definition. To avoid the pitfalls of previous approaches, we do not identify particular social groups, behaviors, or values in our indicators. Further, our measures are politically and temporally neutral.

3 Tolerance as an Orientation Towards Difference

We advance a new conception of the phenomenon in question and define tolerance as a value orientation towards difference . The fundamental question is not whether one puts up with something disliked but how one responds to the existence of diversity itself. This definition is abstract and analytically distinct from other concepts. Footnote 4 Our focus is on subjective reactions to difference; thus, this conceptualization does not require dislike of or identification of potentially objectionable groups, ideas, or behaviors. In practice, this definition is consistent with the approach to tolerance that does incorporate forbearance into its definition.

Our definition—a value orientation towards difference—is consistent with Walzer’s ( 1997 ) understanding of tolerance as an attitude or state of mind. This conception of tolerance is also consistent with previous accounts that do not see prejudice as a prerequisite for tolerance (e.g., Allport 1958 ; Chong 1994 ; Walzer 1997 ) and suggest that multiple expressions of tolerance are possible (e.g., Persell et al. 2001 ; Rapp 2017 ). To identify different possible expressions of tolerance, we adapt Forst’s ( 2013 ) four dimensions. We choose these not because they differ substantively from others but instead because Forst draws distinctions among different types of tolerance in a manner that lends itself well to the empirical investigation of the phenomenon.

According to Forst ( 2017 ), there are four understandings of tolerance and each may be present in a society at the same time. The first and second are related in that they both understand tolerance as a permissive relationship between different groups. In this expression of tolerance, groups do not interfere with each other or their practices but instead accept their existence. The difference between the first and second conception is the structure of society. In the first conception, the groups have unequal power. There is a clear majority that tolerates a minority group. In the second version, the groups have roughly equal power. Because we do not want to distinguish theoretically between societies with different social structures and systems of stratification, we combine these two. Thus, we identify the most basic expression of tolerance as an acceptance of difference .

Forst maintains that tolerance may also be respect for diversity or esteem for diversity. In Forst’s third conception of tolerance, individuals show respect for diversity by viewing disparate groups as morally and politically equal even though they may differ fundamentally in beliefs, practices, and lifestyles. In his fourth conception, tolerance is esteem or appreciation for diversity. According to Forst, esteem is a more demanding reaction to diversity than respect. This version of tolerance means viewing others’ beliefs, practices, or lifestyles as something valuable and worthy of ethical esteem even though they are different from one’s own. Thus, we call the second and third expressions of tolerance respect for difference and appreciation of difference .

One can think of different aspects of tolerance as points on a continuum (Walzer 1997 ). One can also think of these expressions as hierarchical, where individuals who appreciate diversity are also likely to respect and accept diversity, yet acceptance of diversity does not necessarily mean one appreciates it. Our conception of tolerance has clear advantages in terms of measurement. By identifying three distinct aspects of tolerance, we can measure different expressions of tolerance instead of measuring the number of groups one dislikes. Indeed, because we do not identify particular social groups, behaviors, or values in our indicators, our measures are politically and temporally neutral. In the next section, we describe our tolerance measures as well as our survey design and data.

4 Data and Methods

4.1 samples and surveys.

We measure tolerance in two different samples. The first is a random sample of the Swedish population (aged 18 years and older). We administered the survey via the national postal service in spring of 2016. We sent the survey once without reminders. Our response rate is 27.6%, which generated a sample of 1107 individuals. The respondents are comparable to the general population in Sweden in regards to gender (49.7% women) and average age (50.9 years). People with higher education are slightly underrepresented in our sample. In 2016, 27% of the Swedish population had three or more years of tertiary education, while only 19% of our respondents above 25 years have at least 3 years of tertiary education. Footnote 5 11.1% of the sample is foreign-born, which is lower than the 17.9% of the total population born abroad in 2016, but not surprising given the survey was administered in Swedish.

In addition to questions about tolerance, our survey includes a number of questions associated with prejudice, such as attitudes towards immigrants and homosexuals. We include these so that we can assess whether our items capture something distinct from prejudice. These additional items come from established cross-national surveys and have been validated in previous empirical research. We also ask respondents about their political preferences and voting behavior. As previously mentioned, the survey also includes demographic questions.

To investigate if of our measures of tolerance have the same meaning in other countries, we rely on a second dataset, a cross-national sample of individuals from Australia, Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Country selection is one of convenience, as we were invited to add our tolerance items to an existing Qualtrics web-survey Footnote 6 in each of the five countries. Our resulting dataset includes only questions about demographic background and tolerance. In total, there are 6300 respondents with equal numbers from each of the countries. To minimize potential carry-over effects for each item measuring tolerance, we randomized the item order for every respondent. Previous studies comparing population data and survey data provided by self-selected panels such as Qualtrics indicate that these samples are fairly representative (Heen et al. 2014 ). We report descriptives for the cross-national sample by country in “Appendix 1 ” section.

4.2 Measures of Tolerance

To develop our measures, we ran two pilot studies in 2014 and 2015 with self-selected samples. The first pilot study was online and the web address widely advertised. The second pilot study was a paper survey administered to university students. We included 15–20 tolerance items in each. We used these studies to get feedback about the wording of questions and run preliminary analyses. Preliminary results indicated that 9 items produced a good model fit in a SEM analysis, but given we did not use representative samples in the pilot studies, we still included 17 items in the final Swedish survey.

We administered our nationally representative paper and online surveys in 2016. Results from analyses of these samples corroborated preliminary results from the pilot studies. Therefore, we kept a total of 9 items, which as a result of further analyses became 8. Ultimately, we only retained items that adequately load on their respective factor (acceptance, respect, and appreciation) and do not have high cross-loadings on the other two factors. Some have argued that unidirectional scales risk acquiescence bias (e.g., McClendon 1991 ; Billiet and McClendon 2000 ), where differences among items are underestimated, producing a seemingly coherent scale. However, other research suggests this concern is overstated (Rammstedt and Farmer 2013 ). Research on bidirectional items reveal that this approach also has limitations, as items worded both positively and negatively may damage response accuracy (Schriesheim and Hill 1981 ). With these risks in mind, we settled on positively worded items and randomized the items in the cross-national survey. Table  1 reports the final selection of items we use to capture each of the three dimensions of tolerance.

Descriptive statistics for each measure are found in Table  2 . Responses vary from ‘completely disagree’ to ‘completely agree’ on a five-point Likert scale. Scores for each item indicate that on average respondents articulate moderate to fairly high levels of tolerance. Most items display modest skewness, which is expected given the mean values. However, this should be of little concern given the robustness of maximum likelihood estimators (e.g., Reinartz et al. 2009 ), normal distribution of the data, and that all variables are modestly skewed in the same direction. We report descriptive statistics for our cross-national sample in “Appendix 2 ” section.

We rely on these two datasets for a number of different analyses. First, we use our Swedish sample to test a three-factor model of tolerance. To do this we rely on a structural equation model (SEM). Next, we use our second sample and multi-group confirmatory factor analysis to validate our results cross-nationally. In our next set of analyses, we regress latent constructs of attitudes towards out-groups on tolerance. Last, we provide a demographic portrait of tolerance by examining levels of tolerance among different demographic groups in Sweden.

5.1 Factorial Structure of Tolerance

To test our proposed three-factor model of tolerance we conduct a confirmatory factor analysis. In Fig.  1 , we present standard overall model fit statistics, including Chi squared test, comparative fit index (CFI), Tucker-Lewis index (TLI), and the root mean squared error of approximation (RMSEA). CFI, TLI, and RMSEA all indicate a good model fit. The Chi squared for the model fit is significant, which is expected given the large sample size (N = 1077). In order to improve the model further, we specify a correlation between item Ac1 and Ac2 (CFI: 0.987, RMSEA: 0.042), which seems appropriate given the linguistic proximity of the items in question. However, we select the most parsimonious model since its model fit is clearly acceptable. Footnote 7

figure 1

Structural equation model of tolerance, Swedish sample. Notes : Standardized correlations; CFI: 0.975 TLI: 0.959 RMSEA: 0.057 Chi square 76.388 (DF 17); N = 1083

Considering our three expressions of tolerance are correlated, it is possible that a one-factor model actually describes the data better or at least as well as the three-factor model. However, results indicate that this is not the case (CFI: 0.85, RMSEA: 0.13). We also ran analyses using a third item for respect (“It bothers me that some people have different traditions and lifestyles”) but its inclusion leads to slightly worse fit in the Swedish sample (CFI: 0.958, RMSEA: 0.068) and poor fit in the cross-national sample. Thus, we choose the most parsimonious 8-item model.

We only have two items measuring respect, which one could argue violates the common assumption that one needs three manifest items for a latent construct. However, this is not obvious as the contention exists that one item may suffice if the constructs are theoretically well defined (e.g., Bergkvist and Rossiter 2007 ; Hayduk and Littvay 2012 ). We also ran models where we set the covariance between the two respect items to zero (CFI = 0.975 RMSEA = 0.057) as well further restricting the model to include equal loadings. These alternative model specifications reduce the model fit marginally (CFI = 0.972 RMSEA = 0.058) but still indicate an acceptable fitting model. Additionally, we ran models with only two items for each dimension of tolerance, by removing Ac3 and Ap1 in a non-restricted model (CFI = 0.995 RMSEA = 0.034). Finally, we restricted this model, assigning the factor loadings to be pairwise equal while setting error term correlation between the pairwise variable to zero, producing a somewhat worse but still acceptable fit (CFI = 0.979 RMSEA = 0.063). Such models also yield standardized loadings between 0.68 and 0.85. This suggests (net further tests) that these six theoretically motivated variables may be used to measure tolerance in situations where it is pragmatic or necessary to have fewer items in a survey.

To assess if the model holds in different contexts, we use multi-group confirmatory factor analysis to test for measurement invariance across five countries (Australia, Denmark, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States). These countries also represent three different languages (Danish, English, and Swedish). We report results from this analysis in Table  3 . According to Chen ( 2007 ), when N > 300 we should expect, foremost, CFI to decrease less than 0.01 between models. Results from the configural and the metric models demonstrate this. In fact, CFI is only reduced by 0.012 when comparing the metric and the scalar model, indicating that our invariance test almost reaches the threshold for scalar invariance. We choose to be conservative and only acknowledge metric invariance. Changes in RMSEA and SRMR are also within acceptable boundaries (Chen 2007 ).

Based on this analysis, we conclude that our respondents from Australia, Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States understand tolerance similarly. Furthermore, we find support for metric invariance, meaning that the factor structure of the measure is equivalent across groups. This indicates that participants attribute the same meaning to the three latent constructs regardless of country. Thus, it is possible to study associations between three dimensions of tolerance and other individual-level variables across countries in the future. We conclude that the cross-national sample provides evidence that our measurement of tolerance works in three large countries in the English-speaking world as well as in two Northern European countries. The aim of this research is to advance a new way of operationalizing tolerance; thus, our efforts center on identifying commonalities across countries and not to explain differences between countries.

5.2 The Relationships Among Tolerance, Prejudice, and Other Attitudes

Results from our confirmatory factor analysis show that our measures of tolerance are internally consistent. Our next aim is to evaluate if these measures also have good convergent validity. We assess this by analyzing the bivariate relationship between tolerance and various measures of prejudice. We rely on measures commonly used in analyses of prejudice and already validated in previous research (e.g., Bohman and Hjerm 2016 ; Glick and Fiske 1996 ; Pettigrew and Meertens 1995 ). These variables capture prejudice, anti-gay sentiment, anti-immigration sentiment, and sexism. We expect the three aspects of tolerance to be associated with prejudice but to vary in the strength of those relationships. We also examine discriminant validity by analyzing the relationship between tolerance and attitudes towards welfare state support, as we have no theoretical reason to expect tolerance and welfare state attitudes to be related. These measures are also commonly used and empirically validated in previous research (e.g., Roosma et al. 2013 ; Eger and Breznau 2017 ). Table  4 describes the items included in these analyses.

Table  5 reports bivariate correlations among our three latent constructs of tolerance and these attitudes. Coefficients reveal a clear pattern: each aspect of tolerance is negatively correlated with prejudice, specifically negative attitudes towards immigrants, immigration, women, and homosexuals. As we move from acceptance of diversity to respect and appreciation, the size of the correlations increases. This indicates that people who express an appreciation for diversity are less prejudiced than those who only accept diversity. As expected, there are weak correlations among all aspects of tolerance and welfare state support.

Given the different expressions of tolerance are correlated, we also examine multivariate relationships to isolate their respective effects and to provide a clearer picture of the relationship between tolerance and prejudice. As Table  6 shows, when regressing the dependent variables on all three aspects of tolerance, only appreciation for diversity remains negatively associated with attitudes towards out-groups. These results show three important things. First, it is only appreciation of diversity—but not acceptance or respect—that helps explain prejudice. Thus, the bivariate relationships (reported in Table  5 ) between acceptance of diversity and prejudice as well as between respect for diversity and prejudice are driven by those who express all three types of tolerance. Second, these multivariate relationships demonstrate that it is possible to express some degree of tolerance regardless of whether one likes or dislikes racial and ethnic out-groups. Prejudice is not a prerequisite for acceptance of or respect for diversity. Third, it is possible to measure tolerance in a way that is distinct from prejudice towards specific out-groups.

We also note a relationship between acceptance of diversity and sexism. When controlling for different expressions of tolerance, this weak relationship becomes positive. As expected, we find no relationship between tolerance and welfare state support.

Although the three aspects of tolerance are correlated, additional analyses lead us to conclude that these results are not due to multicollinearity. First, we regress all outcome variables on factor scores to produce variance inflation factors (VIF), which indicate how much of the increased variance of a regression coefficient is due to collinearity. The VIF is approximately 1.5 or lower for all cases, indicating low levels of multicollinearity. Second, we compare the models reported in Table  6 with models where we set all (as well as combinations of) outcome variables on tolerance to be equal (see Marsh et al. 2004 ). This enables a test of Chi squared difference between models. In no case is the more restricted model better than the less restricted model (i.e., more freely estimated parameters), suggesting no multicollinearity issues.

5.3 Predicting Tolerance in Sweden

To provide a descriptive overview of tolerance in Sweden, we regress a number of demographic variables on these three tolerance constructs. For ease of interpretation, we use manifest tolerance scores instead of factor scores. Values to range from 1 to 5, with 5 indicating the highest level of each aspect of tolerance. In Table  7 , we report the relationships among tolerance and sex, age group, nativity, education level, civil status, subjective income and the Big Five personality traits. Results indicate no association between sex, nativity, or subjective income. Younger people express greater acceptance of, respect for, and appreciation for difference than those over 65 years old. Married and cohabitating partners articulate less acceptance than those who are single, but there are no differences in terms of respect and appreciation. Education matters for respect and appreciation but not for acceptance. In terms of personality, results show relationships among agreeableness and openness and all three dimensions of tolerance. Conscientiousness and neuroticism are weakly associated with one dimension. Extraversion is unrelated to tolerance.

Comparing these results to findings from the literature on prejudice, important differences emerge. Research on prejudice tends to show that women are less prejudiced than men; the elderly are more prejudiced than those who are younger; income is negatively associated with prejudice; and immigrants are much less prejudiced (towards other immigrants). Moreover, research consistently demonstrates that higher education is inversely related to prejudice. The results reported in Table  7 deviate from this pattern in that there is no sex difference nor any differences due to income or nativity. This provides further evidence that, although tolerance is related to prejudice, it is a distinct phenomenon. The relationships we find among tolerance and the Big Five personality traits are consistent with some studies of prejudice (e.g., Ekehammar and Akrami 2003 ) and inconsistent with others (Rapp and Freitag 2015 ).

6 Conclusion

In this article, we advance the study of tolerance by designing research to overcome both the theoretical and empirical conflation of prejudice and tolerance. There are two main theoretical approaches to tolerance. In the first, dislike of an out-group is a prerequisite for tolerance, meaning that one cannot be tolerant without having first been prejudiced. The implication of this conceptualization is that intolerance is also an indicator of prejudice, making it impossible to analytically—let alone empirically—separate the two constructs. According to the second theoretical tradition, tolerance is a phenomenon distinct from prejudice. Nevertheless, previous empirical research from this tradition incorporates prejudice into the measurement of tolerance by using questions that gauge attitudes towards specific out-groups. Our goal was to overcome these limitations by developing a theoretically driven, multidimensional conception of tolerance that can also be operationalized and measured in a way that is distinct from prejudice or any other concept.

Therefore, we began with a definition of tolerance that is analytically distinct from prejudice. We define tolerance as a value orientation towards difference . Based on previous theoretical work, we identified three expressions of tolerance: acceptance of, respect for, and appreciation of diversity. Next, we developed measures consistent with this conceptualization. Specifically, we designed survey items that capture reactions to diversity itself instead of attitudes towards specific out-groups, thereby also acknowledging people’s capacity for abstract thought. Our measures are temporally and politically neutral, which are essential for analyses over time and geography. With these efforts, we overcome additional limitations of previous research.

We administered two surveys, first in a single country (Sweden) and then cross-nationally in five countries (Australia, Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Results from confirmatory factor analysis demonstrate that the three-factor model has good fit. Based on results from multi-group confirmatory factor analysis, we conclude that respondents across countries understand tolerance similarly. This means that these items can be used to examine tolerance, including its determinants or consequences, both within and across countries. Further, we demonstrated convergent validity by examining the relationship among tolerance and various measures of prejudice. We also found discriminant validity in relation to welfare attitudes. Relationships among types of tolerance and demographic variables lend credence to our claim that, although tolerance is correlated with prejudice, it is a distinct phenomenon that can, and should, be operationalized as such.

Our results suggest that only an appreciation of difference has the potential to reduce prejudice, but we do not know how tolerance is related to other individual-level or societal-level outcomes. Thus, we do not argue that individuals and societies should strive to appreciate all forms of difference. Future research should examine the extent to which these aspects of tolerance affect behavior—political and mundane. Research should also study the societal-level consequences of different aspects of tolerance.

Despite our contribution, we must acknowledge several limitations to our study. First, our data collection was limited to WEIRD countries (i.e., western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) (Henrich et al. 2010 ); hence, future studies should assess whether our measures of tolerance are valid within other institutional and cultural contexts. Second, our empirical studies rely on cross-sectional data. Therefore, we do not know how stable our measures of tolerance are over time. Third, we have not examined our items in relation to earlier attempts at measuring tolerance, including political tolerance. This was beyond the scope of this paper, but something that future research should address.

Finally, we want to reiterate that our goal is not to make moral judgments about tolerance. The purpose of this research was to develop new measures that are consistent with an abstract, analytically distinct conceptualization of tolerance. Thus, we do not claim that tolerance is something inherently good or bad. The consequences of tolerance—different expressions and levels—remain empirical questions. Balint ( 2010 ) explains that “[e]ven if it is found empirically that learning about and respecting each other’s differences is useful for achieving and maintaining a tolerant society, crucially this does not give carte blanche to have this approach to difference maximized. It must be used in the minimal possible way to achieve its ends” (p. 137). Balint’s critique is consistent with Popper’s ( 1945 ) “paradox of tolerance.” Popper argues that tolerance of everything may actually lead to the disappearance of tolerance itself. Tolerating ideas or groups that infringe on others’ freedoms and civil rights may undermine their existence (both the groups and freedoms). Davis ( 1995 ) illustrates this point in his analysis of tolerance of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) among African–Americans.

As stated at the outset of this research, we believe there is an important practical reason to clarify the meaning and measurement of tolerance, as it is often invoked as something important for individuals and societies to develop and demonstrate. In the face of increasing diversity across contemporary democracies, calls for “greater tolerance” of particular social groups has become commonplace. Yet without a clear understanding of tolerance, these imperatives are hollow. How much acceptance of, respect for, or appreciation of difference is necessary to reduce discrimination, violence, or other social problems that may undermine the functioning of democratic societies? We do not claim to have these answers, but by developing tools to study tolerance, this research moves us in the direction of being able to address these types of questions. Indeed, the analytical and methodological approach developed in this article makes this type of empirical research possible.

Although we acknowledge the relevance of tolerance for democratic societies, we make no moral arguments in this article. We do not claim that tolerance is something inherently positive or always good for society. Popper’s ( 1945 ) “paradox of tolerance” posits that unlimited tolerance actually leads to the disappearance of tolerance itself: “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them” (p. 360). Rawls ( 1971 :220) also argues that just societies, when threatened, may prioritize self-preservation over tolerance for the intolerant.

Gibson ( 1992 ) tests Stouffer's “unpopular groups” versus Sullivan et al.'s “least liked” approach empirically. The analyses show no substantive difference between the two, which leads Gibson to conclude that “… there is clearly not a single “best” way to measure political intolerance” (p. 573). While we do not question Gibson’s empirical findings, we disagree with his conclusion.

Tolerance is also recurrent in research on prejudice, especially in analyses of attitudes towards immigrants and ethnic minorities. Here the use of tolerance is not necessarily theoretical, and intolerance and prejudice are generally regarded as equivalents. For example, Togeby ( 1998 ) uses tolerance interchangeably with broadminded views and (absence of) ethnocentrism, making an empirical distinction between positive attitudes towards immigrants coming to the country (prejudice) and positive attitudes towards immigrants already living in the country (tolerance). Other prejudice scholars conceive of tolerance constituting positive attitudes toward immigrants as well as by an abstract ideological belief in and endorsement of equality (Van Zalk et al. 2014 ; Miklikowska 2016 ). Hainmueller and Hiscox ( 2007 ), who study tolerance as a mediator of the education effect on immigration attitudes, operationalize tolerance by an “… array of different measures of individuals’ values and beliefs” (p. 429). The item most explicitly tied to tolerance captures views on laws against promoting racial or ethnic hatred, with more positive attitudes indicating greater tolerance.

Others researchers, however, explicitly describe tolerance as the absence of prejudice. Dunn and Singh ( 2011 ) define intolerance as “a negative general orientation toward groups outside of one’s own” (p. 319). The degree of tolerance is derived from the respondents’ willingness to accept as their neighbors social groups such as immigrants, drug users, homosexuals, or Jews. Evans ( 2002 ) focuses exclusively on racial prejudice and negative attitudes towards homosexuality, interpreting the absence of such attitudes as an expression of “focused tolerance.” For others, the equating of tolerance with positive out-group attitudes appears to come down to semantics. “Tolerance,” then, is not defined or operationalized, but only used to summarize positions on different indicators of prejudice (Crepaz and Damron 2009 ; Craig and Richeson 2014 ; Rustenbach 2010 ).

We call tolerance a value instead of an attitude because it is not a positive or negative evaluation of a specific object (Eagly and Chaiken 1998 ).

The slight underrepresentation of the highly educated differs from other surveys (like the ESS) where those with less education often are underrepresented. It is possible that this difference is due to survey mode or measurement of education level, which are not always perfectly comparable in cross-national designs. .

There are various rules of thumbs accounting for the magnitude of factor loadings. Hair et al. ( 1998 ) advocate for 0.6 whereas Stevens ( 1998 ) identifies 0.4 irrespective of sample size or purpose. Meanwhile, Tabachnick and Fidell ( 2007 ) suggest a very precise cut-off ranging from 0.32 to 0.71, where anything above 0.45 is considered fair. Hair et al. ( 2011 ) also argue that anything less than 0.4 should be dropped whereas 0.5 is moderate. They also claim that the average variance extracted (AVE) should be 0.5, which is the AVE for the first factor. So, even though items Ac3 and Ap1 contribute somewhat less to the latent factors we retain them in the model.

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Open access funding provided by Umea University. This research was presented at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. We thank Elizabeth Fussell, Debra Minkoff, and session participants for their comments and suggestions. We are also grateful to the participants of two pilot studies for their valuable feedback on survey items, as well as Anne-Marie Fors Connolly , Lena Hjerm, Jan Mewes, and Karen Snedker for volunteering their time stuffing envelops and to Erin Eger who also entered data. Finally, we thank anonymous peer reviewers for their useful comments and suggestions.

This research was supported by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation (Marianne och Marcus Wallenbergs Stiftelse [MMW]) Grant No. 2014.0019, the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences (Riksbankens Jubileumsfond [RJ]) Grant No. P14-0775:1, and the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (Forskningsrådet för hälsa, arbetsliv och välfärd [FORTE]) Grant No. 2016-07177.

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Hjerm, M., Eger, M.A., Bohman, A. et al. A New Approach to the Study of Tolerance: Conceptualizing and Measuring Acceptance, Respect, and Appreciation of Difference. Soc Indic Res 147 , 897–919 (2020).

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An Essay About Tolerance For Grade 9 Students

Tolerance is an important value that we should all strive to cultivate in our lives. It means accepting and respecting people who are different from us, whether it is their race, religion, culture, or beliefs.

Tolerance promotes understanding and encourages people to work together towards a common goal, regardless of their differences.

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Read an Essay on Tolerance for students

Tolerance is especially important in today’s world, where we are more connected than ever before through technology and globalization. We encounter people from different backgrounds and cultures every day, and it is essential that we learn to appreciate and respect these differences.

One of the best ways to practice tolerance is to listen to and learn from others. We should make an effort to understand different perspectives and try to see things from someone else’s point of view. This can help us overcome our own biases and prejudices and promote mutual respect .

Another way to practice tolerance is to be open-minded and accepting of others’ beliefs and practices. We may not always agree with someone else’s beliefs or customs, but we can still respect their right to hold them. We should avoid making assumptions or stereotypes about others based on their race, religion, or culture, and instead seek to understand and appreciate their unique perspectives.

Tolerance also involves treating others with kindness and empathy. We should be respectful and courteous towards others, even if we do not necessarily agree with them. By being considerate and compassionate towards others, we can create a more harmonious and accepting world.

Tolerance is an essential value that promotes understanding, respect, and compassion towards others. It is something that we should all strive to cultivate in our lives, and something that can make a positive difference in the world. By practicing tolerance, we can build stronger relationships and communities, and work together towards a brighter future.

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essay about tolerance

667 words essay on Tolerance

essay about tolerance

Tolerance is the virtue of a civilized age. It is the virtue that helps us to put up with those, who have different ways and opinions, and outlook on life. It enables us to see always the other side of things, to suffer fools with patience, fanatics without losing out temper.

In earlier days difference in religion led to prosecution; difference in politics created bad blood, and difference in opinions ended in blows. This is intolerance, the refusal to be just and fair-minded. How many thousands of men and women in Europe were burnt to death for religious differences? The Crusades of the middle Ages bear out this fact. A whole community might be massacred in the name of God. Even today, purges for political opinions have not been banished from society. All this intolerance comes from bigotry, narrowness and blind self-conceit. It is the result of dogmatism, a belief that there is only one attitude that is right.

But as education has spread, the spirit of reason has tended to prevail and the vice of intolerance has fairly diminished. It fact, with the passage of years we are becoming more ready to recognize the possibility of views other than our own. We look upon tolerance as a mark of education and superior culture of ethics of the polite society.

After all, the world has not been set to one pattern, nor have men been shaped in a single mould. Difference, in environment or conditions of life, causes difference in temperament and opinion. Historical evolution has led to diversities in outlook.


Heredity is also a factor not to be over-looked. Each distinctive outlook has its own background. A cultured person takes these into account, makes allowance for them and is ready to make concessions and compromise. Without this broad-mindedness, energy will be wasted in futile arguments. In this long run, mere passion never leads to any good nor solves any problem; passion has to be controlled and disciplined by reason and tolerance.

Tolerance is not only an abstract virtue; it is of considerable influence in the current affairs of life. Man is a social being and has to live in a spirit of harmony and co-operation with others. In this process some amount of give-and-take is necessary, a capacity for compromise.

We cannot persuade others unless we ourselves are at the same time ready to be persuaded by practicing sweet reasonable­ness. Thus it will be seen that tolerance as a social virtue, is opposed to dogmatism or dictatorship. It is impossible for one to be tolerant if one is hide-bound and rigid in views or full of prejudices.

But tolerance is not meant to encourage a week-kneed attitude to life. It has a limit, and beyond that, it may become even a social crime. Tolerance is a virtue only in the little things of life.

But there can be no tolerance where we come up against fundamental principles. If we tolerate evil, our best self goes down and under. Therefore, in matters relating to deeper questions and principles of life, it is our duty to stand up for them and refuse an easy compromise. We should never tolerate moral corruption, social wrongs, political and financial dishonesty; we should never be complaisant towards attacks on our national integrity, on our fundamental rights on the forces of progress in society.

Unfortunately, anarchism and intolerance seem to be on the upgrade, of late. Extremists with the help of sophisticated military weapons are seeking to destabilize a country, taking heavy toll of innocent lives. Angry youngman, challenging all established norms, now parade the walks of life. Tolerance has been cast to the winds by them. Our aim should be to tackle them with a strong hand and then, if permissible, bring them to the conference table. But in personal life, in our daily dealings, we shall have to be long-bearing Chaitanya Mahaprabhu wanted that one should be as tolerant as the tree that does not withdraw shade even to the wood-cutter.

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Powerful Tales of Tolerance: Real-Life Stories that Inspire

essay about tolerance

By Margot Ginter

Powerful Tales of Tolerance: Real-Life Stories that Inspire

In a world plagued by division and strife, stories of tolerance serve as a beacon of hope, reminding us of the power of empathy and acceptance. These real-life tales of individuals who have embraced diversity, shattered stereotypes, and overcome their own biases are a testament to the triumph of the human spirit. From the heartwarming accounts of friendships forged across cultural boundaries to the inspiring narratives of those who have stood up against discrimination, these stories remind us that tolerance knows no barriers. Whether it is a tale of religious harmony, racial unity, or acceptance of individuals with disabilities, these stories shine a light on the possibility of a more inclusive and compassionate world. By sharing these narratives, we not only celebrate the courage and resilience of those who have chosen the path of tolerance, but also inspire others to embrace diversity and foster understanding in their own lives. These real-life stories about tolerance are a powerful reminder that, despite our differences, we are all connected by our shared humanity.


Can you provide an example from real life that demonstrates tolerance, can you give me an example of someone being tolerant, can you provide an instance of tolerance in the field of ethics, from prejudice to acceptance: inspiring real-life stories of tolerance, breaking barriers: extraordinary real-life tales of tolerance and understanding.

  • Provides a deeper understanding of different perspectives: Real life stories about tolerance offer a window into the experiences and struggles of individuals from diverse backgrounds. By engaging with these stories, English learners can develop a greater understanding of different cultures, beliefs, and values, promoting empathy and acceptance.
  • Enhances language skills and vocabulary: Exploring real life stories about tolerance exposes learners to a wide range of vocabulary and language structures. Through reading or listening to these stories, learners can expand their vocabulary, learn new idiomatic expressions, and improve their overall language skills.
  • Encourages critical thinking and reflection: Real life stories about tolerance often present complex social issues and dilemmas. Engaging with these narratives in English enables learners to critically analyze and reflect upon the themes and lessons conveyed. This promotes critical thinking skills and encourages learners to consider their own values and beliefs.
  • Inspires personal growth and character development: Reading or listening to real life stories about tolerance can be incredibly inspiring and impactful. These narratives often highlight the power of empathy, compassion, and understanding, emphasizing the importance of these values in our day-to-day lives. English learners who engage with these stories can be motivated to develop their own tolerance and open-mindedness, leading to personal growth and character development.
  • Cultural Bias: Real life stories about tolerance may inadvertently perpetuate cultural biases and stereotypes. Since these stories are based on specific individuals or communities, they may not accurately represent the diversity and complexity of different cultures and their experiences. This can lead to a limited and one-sided understanding of tolerance, reinforcing existing prejudices and misconceptions.
  • Oversimplification: Real life stories about tolerance often simplify complex social issues and challenges. These stories are often condensed versions of multifaceted and nuanced experiences, which can lead to an oversimplified understanding of tolerance. This oversimplification may hinder the development of critical thinking skills and prevent individuals from fully grasping the complexities of tolerance in real-world scenarios.

One real-life example that demonstrates tolerance is when people engage in respectful discussions about their differing religious or political beliefs. For instance, imagine a group of friends with diverse backgrounds having a conversation about a controversial political issue. Despite their differing opinions, they listen to each other without judgment, seeking to understand and appreciate different perspectives. They may not change their views, but they maintain a sense of respect and empathy towards one another, fostering a tolerant environment where diverse opinions are valued.

In this scenario, the friends display a remarkable level of tolerance as they engage in respectful discussions about their varying religious or political beliefs. Despite their differing opinions, they listen to each other without judgment, seeking to understand and appreciate different perspectives and maintaining a sense of respect and empathy towards one another.

An example of someone being tolerant is when you encounter a person who embraces diversity and accepts others regardless of their differences. For instance, imagine a situation where someone has a roommate who constantly plays a music mix from the 1980s, which the person personally dislikes. However, they choose not to confront their roommate and instead accept their different taste in music, allowing them to enjoy their own preferences without judgment. This demonstrates their tolerance and open-mindedness towards others’ choices and preferences.

Tolerance is exemplified when individuals respect and accept diversity, embracing others’ differences without judgment. For instance, a person’s open-mindedness is demonstrated when they choose not to confront their roommate who plays music from the 1980s, despite personally disliking it. This allows both individuals to enjoy their own preferences without infringing upon each other’s choices.

One instance of tolerance in the field of ethics can be seen in the case of vegetarianism. While a vegetarian may strongly believe that eating animals is morally wrong, they may still choose to tolerate others who consume meat. Despite their personal conviction, they recognize and respect the differing beliefs and choices of others, allowing them the freedom to make their own ethical decisions regarding food. Tolerance in this context is a demonstration of understanding and acceptance, promoting harmony and coexistence among individuals with differing ethical perspectives.

Tolerance in the field of ethics is exemplified in vegetarianism, where individuals who believe eating animals is morally wrong still tolerate others who consume meat, respecting their differing beliefs and choices. This promotes understanding, acceptance, and coexistence among individuals with diverse ethical perspectives.

“From Prejudice to Acceptance: Inspiring Real-Life Stories of Tolerance” showcases the transformative power of empathy and understanding. This article delves into the personal narratives of individuals who have overcome discrimination and bigotry, shedding light on their journey towards acceptance. These poignant stories highlight the importance of embracing diversity and promoting inclusivity in our society. By sharing these narratives, we hope to inspire readers to challenge their own prejudices and foster a more tolerant and compassionate world.

Sharing real-life stories of individuals who have triumphed over discrimination and bigotry, we aim to motivate readers to confront their own biases and create a more inclusive and empathetic society.

“Breaking Barriers: Extraordinary Real-Life Tales of Tolerance and Understanding” is a captivating collection of stories that highlights the power of compassion and acceptance in overcoming adversity. From a friendship that blossomed between two individuals from opposing political backgrounds to a community that rallied together to support a marginalized group, these tales showcase the incredible potential of unity. Through these inspiring accounts, readers are reminded of the importance of embracing diversity and fostering understanding, ultimately proving that barriers can be broken when we choose empathy and respect over prejudice.

Amidst adversity and differences, stories of compassion and acceptance emerge, proving that unity has the power to overcome any barrier. These extraordinary real-life tales highlight the importance of embracing diversity and fostering understanding, reminding us to choose empathy and respect over prejudice.

In a world often plagued by division and prejudice, real-life stories about tolerance serve as powerful reminders of the strength and beauty of humanity. These stories inspire us to challenge our own biases, broaden our perspectives, and open our hearts to others. Whether it is a tale of two individuals from different cultural backgrounds sharing a common bond, or a community coming together to support a marginalized group, these narratives remind us that tolerance is not just an abstract concept but a tangible force that can transform lives. By celebrating and sharing these stories, we can foster a culture of acceptance, empathy, and understanding, ultimately creating a more inclusive and harmonious society. As we navigate the complexities of our diverse world, let us not forget the power of tolerance to bridge divides and unite us all in our shared humanity.


Margot Ginter is a passionate astronomer and stargazer, dedicated to exploring the wonders of the universe. With a degree in Astrophysics and years of experience in research and observation, Margot's blog is a go-to resource for all things related to stars. From explaining complex concepts to highlighting the latest astronomical discoveries, Margot's writing is both informative and inspiring. Whether you're a seasoned astronomer or simply curious about the night sky, Margot's blog is a must-read for anyone looking to deepen their knowledge and appreciation of the cosmos.

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Essay on “Tolerance” Complete Essay for Class 10, Class 12 and Graduation and other classes.

The world needs more Tolerance

“Tolerance is the only real test of civilization”. It was Arthur Kelps who thus extolled the virtue of tolerance. Man in the 21 st century believes he is more civilized than his ancestors. But is he also more tolerant than them? Unfortunately, the virtue of tolerance is not abundant in the world of today and the world is in dire need of it.

          Tolerance can be defined as the possession of  a fair and objective perspective and attitude towards those people who are of different races, religions, nations or have a set of opinions, beliefs and ideas the differ from our own.

          The importance of tolerance lies in its ability to make a human being broad enough in mind to be receptive to all  kinds of ideas. This, in turn , enables on e to widen one’s knowledge and exercise more freedom of choice and jugement for oneself. At the same time it creates a deeper understanding of other’s views and beliefs.

          Today, tolerance seems to be at a discount at all levels. At the most trivial sign of disagreement hot words are exchanged, almost immediately escalating into a fight and sometimes even murder. Family members find it difficult to put up with one another’s shortcomings – after all which human being is perfect? Communities, social groups, facial groups and nations- at all levels, there appears to be an acute lack of tolerance. Trivial misunderstandings, even rumors, give rise to riots with the accompanying bloodshed and permanent acres on relationship ; at the national level, there is civil war and border wars. So often a personal matter such as religion has been distorted to create hatred amongst peoples. If people learnt to tolerate one another’s views , perhaps such sad occurrences could be reduced if not totally removed from this world!  

          Why has tolerance level come down? Or, indeed, has it come down at all? Human beings all through the ages have shown intolerance of views and beliefs and customs alien to their own. Wars such as the Crusades have been fought because of religious intolerance. Racial tension has grown due to intolerance. So long as human beings give in to envy, malice, jealousy and greed, tolerance will suffer. In rent times several longstanding and accepted social institution have shown signs of crumbling. Family values, social values are all being eroded. An increasing materialistic and consumer culture has not helped to nurture essential values. The individual has assumed such importance that anything that militates against that individual’s own ideas is not collated.

          Enlightenment of individual is necessary. Universal values of liberalism, the willingness to listen to others, at most agree to disagree and not enter into fights of domination – these qualities have to be bred at every level of society. Democracy, after all, means tolerance of dissent; if this tolerance is not imbibed and nurtured, it will only give rise to another Bosnia, Chechnya or Kashmir.

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    Tolerance is the virtue of a civilized age. It is the virtue that helps us to put up with those, who have different ways and opinions, and outlook on life. It enables us to see always the other side of things, to suffer fools with patience, fanatics without losing out temper.

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