A Word or Two in Favor of Kindness

A Word or Two in Favor of Kindness January 28, 2019




“My religion is kindness.” 14th Dalai Lama

Today, the 28th of January, is the anniversary of King John Sigismund’s Edict of Torda, promulgated in 1579.

It established the right of ministers to preach the gospel as they best understood it, and, as well, for congregants to reserve their own opinions in these matters. At least it did for a brief time in a fairly obscure corner of Eastern Europe.

The edict represented a shift in thinking that was, perhaps of course, already beginning here and there. It certainly had its limitations. While the language sounded universal, in fact it extended more or less complete freedom to only four groups, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and Unitarians. Other extant religious groups in Transylvania, Jews, Muslims and Christian Orthodox were officially “tolerated.”

I find myself specifically thinking of that word toleration.

The Wikipedia article opens with a brief paragraph summarizing the issue.

Toleration is the acceptance of an action, object, or person which one dislikes or disagrees with. Random House Dictionary defines tolerance as ‘a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one’s own.’ Toleration may signify ‘no more than forbearance and the permission given by the adherents of a dominant religion for other religions to exist, even though the latter are looked on with disapproval as inferior, mistaken, or harmful.‘”

The article continues how “historically, most incidents and writings pertaining to toleration involve the status of minority and dissenting viewpoints in relation to a dominant state religion.” And then the article notes how this concept has expanded to include the state of minorities of all sorts. 

In many ways it is a foundational perspective. It allows the rise of a civil society not based in one perspective, or group’s view of thing. It is dynamic, open, creative, and, well, dangerous. It challenges us in all sorts of unpleasant ways.

Flowing out of this, in my circles there’s been a fairly long standing view that we need to reject “mere” tolerance in favor of a full-hearted embrace of the other. And. Frankly, I think that’s asking for too much.

While it sounds right, and has aspects of some deeper rightness, it misses something critical. We have a right to demand tolerance of each other and our beliefs. I believe that down to my bones. And, well, some of the things that people believe, I find more than wrong. And, I am not going to embrace them. Nor, frankly, should I.

I suspect some may feel the same reservations about some of the things I think that I’ve revealed out loud.

So, tolerance.

That noticing about others and ourselves calls us to tolerance. Tolerance participates in a different sort of relationship with all our perceived and real “others.” It doesn’t insist on mutual transformation. It insists on our letting each other exist.

For me the critical act here turns on something so simple we can easily miss it.

And. Yes. Out of that allowing a space, things do happen. Transformation may happen. Great, and, frankly, more often small things can birth.

And, speaking of small things, like tolerance, like a certain humility in the face of the other, whether it be a person or an idea, calls us to something.

I find myself thinking of Aldous Huxley, who was very important to me in my formative years. He rather famously said, “It’s a little embarrassing that after forty-five years of research & study, the best advice I can give people is to be a little kinder to each other.”

Something so small. Like a mustard seed.

Kindness. The stuff that makes us decent human beings.

And, who knows what more…

Embracing a broad stance of tolerance doesn’t let us off the hook of being responsible for our actions within a diverse and often conflicting culture. But, the standard shifts from only our perspective to something that allows us all a place.

Looking for a baseline, something we have as a right to because we breathe air? Tolerance is pretty darned good. Especially when we look at what the alternatives usually are. And, kindness, well that’s what tolerance looks like when it is alive and real.

A thought or two early in the morning…

Browse Our Archives