Am I that intolerant liberal that conservatives warned you about?

liberal-conservativeAt the risk of humble-bragging, I think one of my better character traits is my ability to be impartial: to keep judgments to myself in an attempt to understand why people hold beliefs and values that I strongly disagree with.

That being said, everyone has their “hot button topics” that make impartiality next to impossible. The older I get, the more I realize that the “hot button” issues that grind my gears are similar to those of my family.

And that scares me.

Not because my family’s values are bad (though I’m biased), but because I fear becoming the kind of person I can’t stand: the kind whose beliefs are shaped more by her upbringing than personal experience. The kind of person who was taught what to think, rather than learning to think for herself.

The older I get, the more I realize something that would have horrified my college-aged self:

I am becoming a liberal, like everyone else in my family. I am finding it increasingly difficult to “tolerate” (I hate that word, but it fits) the uber-conservative views of some of my close friends.

Is this an accident? Have I gone full circle in my personal experiences, or am I becoming the person I was meant to be all along, because the environment I was raised in made that inevitable?

I’m not the expert on my own life that perhaps I ought to be, because I don’t know how to answer that question. I’ve had experiences that changed my mind on quite a few things, that’s for sure. No amount of liberal family values could have accomplished that.

What scares me is becoming the sort of person who sees everything in black and white, and cannot for the life of her listen to opposing viewpoints without smoke coming out her ears.

Just a few examples…

I have this visceral reaction every time I hear a woman say she’s not a feminist.

I get heart palpitations when I hear Christians get on their soapboxes about the evils of abortion, but somehow believe that turning away refugees is something Jesus would totally do.

I see waves of red for every Christian who equates homosexuality with rape and murder.

I am becoming the kind of person who thinks, Why is this issue not as obvious to you as it is to me????

Likewise, I get the same reactions when I tell people that I am a feminist; that I’m not convinced that homosexuality is sinful; that I think Jesus would gladly open the door for refugees, because he and his parents were ones.

For the sake of my sanity, I find myself constantly reevaluating what my “dealbreaker” issues are; which disagreements I can accept without losing friendships, and which ones are too personal to even retain acquaintanceship. Because something else I fear is living out the “I’m tolerant as long as you agree with me” liberal stereotype.

I’m sure quite a few people would say that’s exactly what I am, considering that I went on a Facebook un-friending spree after Trump won the election and removed every person I knew who voted for him, because I was so angry. I felt betrayed, as a woman and as a Jew (even if only a cultural/ethnic one).

Maybe I put too much pressure on myself to be open-minded. I remember all too well how painful it was to be rejected by Jewish friends who refused to give me the time of day when word got out that I’d converted, without giving me the chance to explain (hence why I felt the need to write a book). I hated feeling so misunderstood. I didn’t need people to agree with my beliefs, but I did need them to at least listen to me.

Sometimes just listening is the hardest thing any of us can do. Some issues are just too personal to practice impartiality. But the last thing I want to do is create an echo chamber without realizing it.


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15 thoughts on “Am I that intolerant liberal that conservatives warned you about?

  1. Pingback: Relationship deal breakers and mental health | Sarahbeth Caplin

  2. This is a great conversation. Very hard stuff. I think that a lot of us feel like we simply can’t tolerate perspectives which are just second nature to some people. It’s weird and uncomfortable because we’re accustomed to withholding judgment when possible. The problem we’re having, I think, is that a lot of what we’re feeling increasingly intolerant of is abusive. It’s abusive to condemn people for being who they are. It’s abusive to tell other people who they have to be in order to be free and respected. It’s abusive to turn away and condemn someone in need of help. It’s abusive to speak in de-humanizing ways about other human beings. It’s abusive to be hateful and call it love (aka gaslighting). It’s abusive to withhold love and resources from other human beings. It’s abusive to look at a suffering, needy person and accuse them of being moral failures. Frankly, a lot of our society has become (or probably always has been) sociopathic. I think that part of our process and walk is rejecting that sociopathy and it’s normalization. Which feels intolerant. But we ought to be intolerant of abuse. In fact, in my personal life I have found that being able to openly label abuse was powerful and helped to free me from the harm caused by it. A lot of people who are conservative simply do not understand how they are hurting others. And being told that they’re abusive and why is probably necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I wonder the same thing, although the majority of my family is conservative.

    The GOP seems to have lost all reason, and liberal ideas consistantly make more sense and appear more ethical. I have to ask myself if I’m looking through rose colored glasses sometimes.

    However, when my parents actively fight for the “right” to deny basic civil rights to my LGBT friends, I don’t care so much about tolerance.
    My best friend could get fired just for being gay in my state. It doesn’t matter if he’s completely celibate and never says a word at work about his orientation. If someone finds out he’s attracted to men, he could lose his job and would have no legal recourse.
    That’s wrong. I don’t need to “tolerate” the legal assault on an already stigmatized minority just to prove my open-minded-ness.

    It’s an important question though, glad I found your blog. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Descartes said, “The diversity of our opinions doesn’t come from some being more reasonable than others, but because we don’t drive our thoughts along the same ways or consider the same things. It’s not enough to have a good mind; the important thing is to apply it well.”

    I will start by saying that it is not inevitable being liberal because of your family, as I grew up in the Religious Right; if that were the case, I would be far more unambiguously Rightist. Right now I’m in political limbo.

    Back to the Descartes quote, I, with my background, definitely am on a different street. You refer to “I’m tolerant as long as you agree” as a liberal stereotype, but that’s something I associate with conservatives; if you don’t agree with them, they label you a “God-hater” or a traitor. Where I grew up, they were highly intolerant of other positions, we were warned to be careful what we read, lest Satan deceive us. Things we didn’t agree with were ascribed to the Illuminati and/or Satan.

    I started questioning all this around 2003 and saw myself as one of the men in Plato’s Cave, and began to wonder how much of what I was taught was just a shadow on the wall. (Hence my profile pic.)

    The best advice I can give is Irshad Manji’s view that, while we need to be tolerant and openminded, we need to start somewhere and stand for our values, but need to be open to new info. When it comes to facing this stuff, I recommend the Moral Courage Channel on YouTube(also useful for restoring your faith in humanity).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Being intolerant of Intolerance is not a sin or even a short-coming; it’s how we manage that visceral feeling in the question, or the challenge.
    My emotional response always has me ‘scaring the horses’ because it always leads down roads of authoritarian state control (UK, Very,very Left Wing), which my brain tells me leads to its own sort of abuses…so deep breaths lad, deep breaths.
    Historically there is nothing new here. The US has in terms of others a short history, but these outbreaks of visceral anger and losing of reason are part of many cultures’ heritages.
    But now we have reached an era of potentially true enlightenment (I personally never counted the Enlightenment as being so…but that’s for another time).
    It is a hard task to meet Intolerance face on and it can be wearing. It can also be complicated as you might find common cause with someone in some of their beliefs.
    The best way we can all work, is to keep on sending out our messages that we will not give way to this. ‘You’ cannot change ‘My’ outlook, ‘I will treat all as equals’. It’s not much I know but it’s a start and challenges out the rage, but ‘they’ can do nothing against a dignified quiet stance. You will always win in the eyes of the observer.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I hear you on this. I too pride myself on openminded-ness and, well, I too have visceral reactions to antifeminism, antichoice but antirefugees, anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Ugh, I came from a super conservative family, and sometimes I’m afraid I just switched labels.
    But the truth is sometimes I feel this way because I *have* examined the issue, in depth, and know a decent amount more than the person declaring that abortions are baby-murders and should never be allowed. But, yeah, I am pretty intolerant of that nowadays.
    Sometimes I find corresponding with other opinions by email is helpful. Oh, it still sets me off, but at least I have time I can spend away from the rhetoric, and time to compose a suitable answer, than in a close conversation.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I live in a very liberal college town where not many would admit they voted for Trump. I consider myself left of center, but as far as local politics go, there is often a disconnect with how things are run and the ideals of the Democratic party. For example most everyone would say they welcome refugees, but many would try to avoid sending their kids to school with them.

    Feminism: My dad grew up in a family with very old world notions about how girls should be raised, and these ideas were imposed on my family and my cousins as well. My mom went to school in a time where the guidance counselor could tell the female high school students not to register for physics, those slots had to be saved for the boys. Having been exposed to some of those ideas , I am definitely a feminist.

    Feminism and having a son: I think having a son has made me aware of issues that affect men in a way that I hadn’t been before. It bothers me that that feminism of today wants to talk about the difficulty women face, but not issues that might not be “fair” that affect men. These issues include having to register for the draft, higher suicide rate and more likely to be medicated with psychotropic drugs. Those are just a few. So sometimes I am on the fence about feminism.

    I was raised in a Republican family, partly because my dad had a job related to the defense preparedness. I could readily understand where he came from. The Republican party has completely gone off the rails.

    I used to be more of a black and white thinker but no so much anymore. Both parties have their flaws.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Being openminded is a trait that enables one react to issues with a certain level of diplomacy. And though it create a level field for interaction there should be standards that would not permit certain level of compromise.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A few thoughts–

    Tolerance right now is very difficult precisely because we live in a culture that permits and enables echo chambers. Despite how we idealize ourselves, we never been a society which has operated with true and complete openness and tolerance, but changes in community and in communications have reduced the need to engage across ideological lines. We are all struggling with this, and I am not sure what the final outcome will be.

    Remember, too, that tolerance is a virtue. As such it must be practiced, and none of us ever get it down. As you obviously understand, it is frequently very difficult. This whole question is an ongoing negotiation, in part between what we believe is right and how much strain our social connections can tolerate.

    At the same time, there is a line. It’s never been well-defined, but there is a point beyond which tolerance will actually enable evil. Lies must be opposed by truth, and evil actions by justice. You’re not being intolerant if you tell a hateful person who will not listen to reasoned argument to drop dead.

    Liked by 3 people

    • “Changes in community and in communications have reduced the need to engage across ideological lines.”

      I wonder if it’s always been like that. I sometimes look at my grandma’s college philosophy textbook, from 1980. Even back then, the authors noted how resistant our ideas are to change. They observe that “we have a vast repertoire of devices that can shelter us from unwanted attitudes, values, and ideas” and observed that people rarely read political periodicals that argue against their own political views, or serioulsy investigated religious views incompatible with their own.

      But, my theory is that we have always lived in echo chambers, and today may actually be better, since we aren’t killing or tarring and feathering each other, like happened in previous eras.

      Maybe that would be a good subject to study, which eras were echo chambers weakest, and which were they strongest, and what is our responsibility for this era.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Well said. I did not vote for Trump or Hillary. I’m so happy I didn’t vote for him. What a debacle. Hang in there!!!

    Sent from my iPhone



  11. This post resonates so much with me, because of how I have been feeling and thinking over the past couple of years (and even more in the last one since I moved to the US). I try to be impartial and listen to everyone, but there are things where I just see red and that disgusts me too much. I still try to remain open-minded but I can’t bring myself to put up with bigotry, sexism, racism and other dangerous behaviors I see displayed.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The thing is, we’re not required to view everyone’s opinions equally. Being tolerant doesn’t mean standing silent while someone condemns you or your loved ones for trying to live an honest and full life. If you won’t be friends with someone because they think Star Trek is better than Star Wars, and you disagree, then yeah, that’s a little intolerant. But choosing to end a relationship with someone because they believe whole groups of people deserve to be tortured or killed for an aspect of themselves that they don’t even control…. that’s not intolerant. That’s self-preservation, most times. I don’t owe anyone five minutes of my time if they’re going to spend those five minutes explaining why I should be treated as a second-class citizen. As long as you’re open to hearing most other opinions and accepting constructive criticism, like from minorities, then I don’t think you’ll be just shouting into an echo chamber. You don’t need to listen to every KKK member to know you disagree with what they represent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • True story: I said exactly that on a status that an acquaintance posted on Facebook. It said something like “If you unfriend those who support Trump’s wall, you are doing the very thing you don’t want – building a wall.” I was promptly blasted by responses about the so-called hypocrisy of being tolerant of everything but “intolerance.” It impacted me a little more than I care to admit.

      Liked by 1 person

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