Human Nature and Intolerance

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Try as I might, I can’t eradicate my fear that intolerance has permanent roots in human nature.

I want to believe otherwise. I want to believe that we can love more easily than we can hate. I want to believe that the violent and frightening clashes seen across the globe today over race, religion, class, culture, and often all combined result simply from some awful trend that we can reverse if we put our shoulders into it.

When did we tip from peace and tolerance into extremism and fear and loathing? Never. A historical review didn’t turn up such a utopia. Not fifty years ago. Not last century. Not at the beginning of recorded time. Sumerians and ancient Egyptians wrote of dynasties, slavery, and warfare.

Researching, I found calls for tolerance throughout history—and few signs that they worked. Instead, I found a melancholy-inducing survey from Time Magazine highlighting intolerance in the United States. I found a historical review noting that people frequently couch intolerance in the language of “protecting values” and “preserving culture.” (Sound familiar?)

I found a psychological analysis of adolescents that addresses how open-minded children turn into hateful young adults. The need for acceptance during a stage of increasingly intense insecurity causes intolerance for differences. I’d venture that insecurity begets fear that begets anger and hate in adults just as often.

And I found a thought-provoking article showing that I, too, foster intolerance. I can’t tolerate hate. I can’t tolerate small-mindedness. I can’t tolerate willful ignorance. These traits make me angry.

I can’t tolerate what we often mean by “intolerance.”

And in this vein, if no other, I’ll stay intolerant.

What I wish for the world, for all of us in it today and for the generations to come? I wish for a world grown more loving, more thoughtful, more understanding. I wish for a world in which all of us had gained perspective. A world in which my current intolerance no longer has basis.

Yet after long, deep, hard thought, I have very little hope.

All I can do: Work as a force of one to eradicate hate and intolerance and spread love and understanding. Perhaps I can convince one or two other people to join me. Can I end intolerance worldwide? No.

Yet infusing even the smallest amount of love into the world has to prove better than doing nothing. And it’s the best any of us can do.

Can we separate human nature and intolerance?