The Thing About Other People’s Beliefs Is…

Tolerance and Compassion in the Face of Disagreement

It is an unavoidable by-product of being a member of civilisation that we all should have points of views, beliefs and opinions about just about everything ranging from banal trivialities to life-threatening subjects. 
It is also unavoidable that other people have theirs too. Therein lies both the problem and the solution.

Your freedom ends when it encroaches on someone else’s.

It’s a valuable tenant of democracy that we all enjoy freedom of speech and expression, it is outlined in the constitution of most modern countries. There that you can say or do (pretty much) whatever you want is a wonderful thing that should never be taken for granted- but balancing flaring passion and civil respect can sometimes be difficult. We see it around civil rights and especially in the case of a woman’s right to choose. With the rise of the alt-right and prominent voices in the public political arena pushing evermore hardlined and intolerant messages it’s easy to fall into the trappings of responding in similarly strong and over-the-top language to illustrate a point that perhaps doesn’t stand out quite the way it used to.

It shouldn’t have to be like that- and it isn’t. Voices like that gain traction and exposure because they are out of the ordinary and can be considered a peculiar exception to the thinking of most people. Most people just want to work hard, raise a family, make friends and enjoy life as much as they can without worrying too much about the things that we elect officials to do.
It’s worth mentioning that these alt-right voices are a minority and the real reason that people on the alt-right are being given as much exposure as they are is because television has long abandoned black-and-white objective reporting in favour of sensationalism in a quest for ever higher ratings.

While it is dangerous to keep giving a platform to the hardliners, it’s not without its positives.
It is a healthy exercise in democracy and it is important to open dialogue around issues and get people thinking and talking about it. Sometimes its only by hearing the unreasonable ravings of an extremist that you discuss something around the water-cooler, or over dinner with your family or whilst having drinks with your friends.
Sometimes it takes hearing extreme positions on subjects to remind people about the sensible allure of a more centrist approach because we need solutions that work for all people, not just the few.

Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.

Here’s where the key part comes in though: remaining civil in a civilisation and having compassion for the people you are talking to and also for the subjects you are talking about. Be free to make your own mind up about things and remembering that your freedom ends when it encroaches on someone else’s. You don’t have to agree with or even respect a person’s beliefs but you must always respect a persons right to choose their beliefs. Even if their choices aren’t ones you would make, as long as they aren’t choosing for you or taking your right to choose away from you then we can all peacefully co-exist.

Everyone should have their own right to choose what is right for them, and what is right for them might not be right for you but that OK because we are different people from different backgrounds with different interpretations about the right way to live. Our ideas can be informed by religion or philosophy or experience- but ultimately these are guidelines and we must remain critical and think for ourselves.

Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.

Originally published at medium.com

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