The Paradox of Tolerance

I was speaking with my dad about my wedding and what he wanted his role in it to be, or not to be as it turned out. (He stated he would rather just sit in the back and experience the wedding. Kinda like with a baseball game or concert apparently…). Well, after going back and forth briefly on that, our conversation turned to my mom who is, as you probably know from previous posts, not accepting at all of my life and my fiance.

I asked him whether or not she would come and if I should even invite her and I laid out my reasons, which were both emotional and logical. He highly suggested I still invite her because otherwise, if she did decide to attend even though she doesn’t support it, it would be a slap in the face if I didn’t invite her. That we may not know until the day of the wedding if she’ll be there but to let her come to that conclusion on her own.

Well throughout this conversation, it was pointed out to me that I was not being understanding of her views and experiences and that forcing her to make a decision on whether to support me or not wasn’t very tolerant. That any struggles were not necessarily between me and her but rather with me and not being open to her experiences and why she does not support me.

That stopped me in my tracks.

I was being called to the mat for not being open, understanding and tolerant of my mom’s intolerance of me.

The day went down hill from there. I couldn’t focus. I was a bit of a hot mess emotionally.

The next day, I was talking with Michael and our friend Jaime about it and Michael pointed out a concept he learned in undergrad called “The Paradox of Tolerance” which was defined by philosopher Karl Popper in 1945. Michael noticed that, that was what my dad had thrown at me.

The short and sweet of it is that refusing to tolerate intolerance is itself intolerance.

My initial reaction was:


But now I’m more like:


Now, I have no answers to any of this but as usual, needed to write it out to help me process it all. But let me tell you that I’ve got lots of questions swimming in my head right now such as:

-Am I actually an intolerant person?

-Is it wrong to be intolerant of an intolerant person?

-At what point do I become intolerant in my work to be tolerant?

-What would my wedding be like with my family or without them?

-Will Michael and I be comfortable with having people who do not believe in our lives or happiness at our wedding?

-What’s more important: intolerant family at our wedding or not having to deal with that on our Special Day?

-Do I example this paradox in my professional work and am intolerant to others due to their intolerance thus making me intolerant of them?

Though while I have many questions whirling around, maybe this will be a moment of learning in which I finally draw a line with the level of  influence some have over me in my life and limit or close those relationships. Perhaps it’ll help me better understand some of the work that is being done in my professional field. And perhaps it’ll help me better understand and advise my students and even colleagues. Only time knows.

So this is what I’ve been musing over in my head and for the time being, can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe in the future I’ll have some answers but for now just musings and contemplations.

Thanks for reading through my musing and maybe it’ll help you work through some stuff too. 🙂

Until next time,

Peace, Love and Pandas!

Published by Brian

I am currently the Assistant Director of Student Life for Registered Student Organizations and Late-Night Programming at Michigan State University. After earning my B.A. from the University of Michigan-Flint, I entered the Student Affairs profession. After a few years in the field, I returned to school and earned my M.A. in Educational Leadership-Higher Education Student Affairs from Eastern Michigan University. In my spare time I blog about my thoughts and musings on current issues in higher education, student affairs, digital worlds, identity development and general life inspirations and observations. I also volunteer a lot for my fraternity and multiple regional and national professional associations.

4 thoughts on “The Paradox of Tolerance

  1. I’m curious (though as I read more of your posts, I’ll probably find out) — what is your profession? Are you an educator?

    What a dilemma. I wish you luck in your journey and decision-making.

    1. Thanks for reading my musings and thoughts! I really appreciate it! I work in higher education (specifically at Michigan State) as a student activities advisor and leadership educator.

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