Fair and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions or practice differ from your own.

— Tolerance, 15

a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.
a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.
interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own; a liberal, undogmatic.
viewpoint. the act or capacity of enduring; endurance: My tolerance of noise is limited.

Tolerance is not just agreeing with one another or remaining indifferent in the face of injustice, but rather showing respect for the essential humanity in each and every person.

The highest result of education is tolerance.Helen Keller
Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.John F. Kennedy

Then They Came For Me

By Martin Niemoller

World War II and what the Nazi’s did to the Jews has many lessons for us about tolerance. One of the best lessons is re-told in this short poem by Martin Niemoller a prominent German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor of that era.

“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.Dalai Lama

Tolerance is “the practice of deliberately allowing or permitting a thing of which one disapproves. One can meaningfully speak of tolerating, ie of allowing or permitting, only if one is in a position to disallow”. It has also been defined as “to bear or endure” or “to nourish, sustain or preserve”. 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”. Historically, most incidents and writings pertaining to toleration involve the conflict between a dominant or state religion and minority or dissenting viewpoints. In the twentieth century and after, analysis of the doctrine of toleration has been expanded to include political and ethnic groups, homosexuals and other minorities.

The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.Ralph W. Sockman

Fighting intolerance takes both state action and individual responsibility. Governments must adhere to the international standards for human rights, must ban and punish hate crimes and discrimination against all vulnerable groups, must ensure equal access to justice and equal opportunity for all. Individuals must become tolerance teachers within their own families and communities. We must get to know our neighbors and the cultures and the religions that surround us in order to achieve an appreciation for diversity. Education for tolerance is the best investment we can make in our own future security.

Religion is a good to be embraced and defended — not an evil to be put up with. No one speaks of tolerating chocolate pudding or a spring walk in the park. By speaking of religious “tolerance,” we make religion an unfortunate fact to be borne — like noisy neighbors and crowded buses — not a blessing to be celebrated.

Our modern ideas of religious tolerance sprang from the European Enlightenment. A central tenet of this movement was the notion of progress, understood as the overcoming of the ignorance of superstition and religion to usher in the age of reason and science. In the words of Voltaire, “Philosophy, the sister of religion, has disarmed the hands that superstition had so long stained with blood; and the human mind, awakening from its intoxication, is amazed at the excesses into which fanaticism had led it.”

Tolerance is the oil which takes the friction out of life.Wilbert E. Scheer
The responsibility of tolerance lies in those who have the wider vision.George Eliot

UNESCO –Paris, France

Article 1 – Meaning of tolerance

1.1 Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible, contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.

1.2 Tolerance is not concession, condescension or indulgence. Tolerance is, above all, an active attitude prompted by recognition of the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. In no circumstance can it be used to justify infringements of these fundamental values. Tolerance is to be exercised by individuals, groups and States.

1.3 Tolerance is the responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), democracy and the rule of law. It involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism and affirms the standards set out in international human rights instruments.

1.4 Consistent with respect for human rights, the practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one’s convictions. It means that one is free to adhere to one’s own convictions and accepts that others adhere to theirs. It means accepting the fact that human beings, naturally diverse in their appearance, situation, speech, behavior and values, have the right to live in peace and to be as they are. It also means that one’s views are not to be imposed on others.

What is tolerance?—it is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly—that is the first law of nature.Alan Wilson

Since religion was the primary cause of conflict and war, the argument went, peace could only be achieved through a lessening of people’s passion for religion and commitment to specific doctrines. As Voltaire wrote in his Treatise on Toleration, “The less we have of dogma, the less dispute; the less we have of dispute, the less misery.” Toward this stated end, many mechanisms were put into play, among them the selection of proper words to modify people’s views on religion.

The United Nations’ Declaration of Principles on Tolerance states outright that tolerance is a virtue and defines it as “respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human.” This definition mirrors that of the American Heritage College Dictionary, which states that tolerance is “a fair and permissive attitude toward those whose race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry. A fair and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.”

Tolerance is a decidedly modern virtue. It appears in none of the classical treatments of the virtues: not in Plato, not in Seneca, not even in Aristotle’s extensive list of the virtues of the good citizen in his Nichomachean Ethics. Indulgence of evil, in the absence of an overriding reason for doing so, has never been considered virtuous. Even today, indiscriminate tolerance would not be allowed. A public official tolerant of child abuse or tax evasion would hardly be considered a virtuous official.

The closer one examines tolerance and tries to apply it across the board, the more obvious it becomes that it’s simply insufficient as a principle to govern society. Even if it were possible to achieve total tolerance, it would be exceedingly undesirable and counterproductive to do so. In his play Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “We may prate of toleration as we will; but society must always draw a line somewhere between allowable conduct and insanity or crime.”

Moreover, as a virtue, tolerance seems to have distanced itself so far from its etymological roots as to have become another word altogether. Thus the virtue of “tolerance” no longer implies the act of “toleration,” but rather a general attitude of permissiveness and openness to diversity. A tolerant person will not tolerate all things, but only those things considered tolerable by the reigning cultural milieu. Tolerance therefore now has two radically incompatible meanings that create space for serious misunderstandings and abuse.

The UN Declaration of Principles on Tolerance incorporates a prior statement from the UN Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, which states: “All individuals and groups have the right to be different.” Taken at face value, that is a ridiculous claim. Suicide bombing is “different,” as are genocide and sadomasochism. To say that one person has a right to be bad, simply because another happens to be good, is the ludicrous logic of diversity entitlement.

In the end, the question for everyone necessarily becomes not, “Shall I be tolerant or intolerant?” but rather, “What shall I tolerate and what shall I not tolerate?”

Intolerance has been the curse of every age and state.Samuel Davies
To see ourselves as others see us can be eye-opening. To see others as sharing a nature with ourselves is the merest decency. But it is from the far more difficult achievement of seeing ourselves amongst others, as a local example of the forms human life has locally taken, a case among cases, a world among worlds, that the largeness of mind, without which objectivity is self-congratulation and tolerance a sham, comes.Clifford Geertz


America is the great “melting pot,” a rich blend of cultural traditions from all over the world. Many American families can trace their histories to immigrant ancestors who traveled great distances, enduring risk and hardship, to make a home where they would be guaranteed basic freedoms. And for many American families these freedoms came with a struggle. Their parents and grandparents were denied the basic rights we value. American society was founded on freedom from religious persecution and on tolerance of differences in beliefs and cultural heritage. The differences (or diversity) that come from people from all over the world enrich our culture, bringing new ideas and energy. Today, more than ever, kids interact with people of differing ethnicities, religions, and cultures. Classrooms are increasingly diverse, reflecting the communities where families live and work.

A World of Difference

Some parents welcome the fact that we live in an increasingly diverse society. Others may feel more hesitant, especially if they haven’t had much exposure to people different from themselves. Many kids are way ahead of their parents regarding exposure to cultural differences. Their circle of friends, their schoolmates, and their athletic teams are much more varied than those of even a generation ago. Still, parents should help their kids prepare to live, learn, and work in communities that will become even more diverse. Teaching tolerance is important not just because it is part of our American heritage, but because the person who learns to be open to differences will have more opportunities in education, business, and many other aspects of life. In short, your child’s success depends on it. Success in today’s world — and tomorrow’s — depends on being able to understand, appreciate, and work with others.

Tolerance refers to an attitude of openness and respect for the differences that exist among people. Although originally used to refer to ethnic and religious differences, the concepts of diversity and tolerance can also be applied to gender, people with physical and intellectual disabilities, and other differences, too.

Tolerance means respecting and learning from others, valuing differences, bridging cultural gaps, rejecting unfair stereotypes, discovering common ground, and creating new bonds. Tolerance, in many ways, is the opposite of prejudice.

But does tolerance mean that all behaviors have to be accepted? Of course not. Behaviors that disrespect or hurt others, like being mean or bullying, or behaviors that break social rules, like lying or stealing, should not be tolerated. Tolerance is about accepting people for who they are — not about accepting bad behavior. Tolerance also means treating others the way you would like to be treated.

How Tolerance Is Taught

Like all attitudes, tolerance is often taught in subtle ways. Even before they can speak, children closely watch — and imitate — their parents. Kids of all ages develop their own values, in great part, by mirroring the values and attitudes of those they care about.

Many parents live and work in diverse communities and have friends who are different from themselves in some (or in many) ways. Parents’ attitudes about respecting others are often so much a part of them that they rarely even think about it. They teach those attitudes simply by being themselves and living their values. Parents who demonstrate (or model) tolerance in their everyday lives send a powerful message. As a result, their kids learn to appreciate differences, too.

Of course, celebrating differences of others doesn’t mean giving up your own heritage. Your family may have its own longstanding cultural and religious traditions that are something to be proud of. Families can find ways to celebrate differences of others while continuing to honor and pass down their own cultural heritage.

How Can Parents Teach Tolerance?

Parents can teach tolerance by example — and in other ways, too. Talking together about tolerance and respect helps kids learn more about the values you want them to have. Giving them opportunities to play and work with others is important as well. This lets kids learn firsthand that everyone has something to contribute and to experience differences and similarities.

Things parents can do to help kids learn tolerance include:

  • Notice your own attitudes. Parents who want to help their kids value diversity can be sensitive to cultural stereotypes they may have learned and make an effort to correct them.
  • Demonstrate an attitude of respect for others. Remember that kids are always listening. Be aware of the way you talk about people who are different from yourself. Do not make jokes that perpetuate stereotypes. Although some of these might seem like harmless fun, they can undo attitudes of tolerance and respect.
  • Select books, toys, music, art, and videos carefully. Keep in mind the powerful effect the media and pop culture have on shaping attitudes. Point out and talk about unfair stereotypes that may be portrayed in media.
  • Answer kids’ questions about differences honestly and respectfully. This teaches that it is acceptable to notice and discuss differences as long as it is done with respect.
  • Acknowledge and respect differences within your own family. Demonstrate acceptance of your children’s differing abilities, interests, and styles. Value the uniqueness of each member of your family.
  • Remember that tolerance does not mean tolerating unacceptable behavior. It means that everyone deserves to be treated with respect — and should treat others with respect as well.
  • Help your children feel good about themselves. Kids who feel badly about themselves often treat others badly. Kids with strong self-esteem value and respect themselves and are more likely to treat others with respect, too. Help your child to feel accepted, respected, and valued.
  • Give kids opportunities to work and play with others who are different from them. When choosing a school, day camp, or child-care facility for your child, find one with a diverse population.
  • Learn together about holiday and religious celebrations that are not part of your own tradition. Honor your family’s traditions and teach them to your kids — and to someone outside the family who wants to learn about the diversity you have to offer.
  • When parents encourage a tolerant attitude in their children, talk about their values, and model the behavior they would like to see by treating others well, kids will follow in their footsteps.
Tolerance and celebration of individual differences is the fire that fuels lasting love.Tom Hannah
Every era has a currency that buys souls. In some the currency is pride, in others it is hope, in still others it is a holy cause. There are of course times when hard cash will buy souls, and the remarkable thing is that such times are marked by civility, tolerance, and the smooth working of everyday life.Eric Hoffer

Voltaire’s thoughts on Tolerance:

WHAT is tolerance? it is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly–that is the first law of nature.

It is clear that the individual who persecutes a man, his brother, because he is not of the same opinion, is a monster. That admits of no difficulty. But the government! but the magistrates! but the princes! how do they treat those who have another worship than theirs.

Thus have reasoned the men whom centuries of bigotry have made powerful. They have other powerful men beneath them, and these have still others, who all enrich themselves with the spoils of the poor, grow fat on their blood, and laugh at their stupidity. They all detest tolerance, as partisans grown rich at the public expense fear to render their accounts, and as tyrants dread the word liberty. And then, to crown everything, they hire fanatics to cry at the top of their voices : ” Respect my master’s absurdities, tremble, pay, and keep your mouths shut.”

It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the faults of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from their sense of inadequacy and impotence. We cannot win the weak by sharing our wealth with them. They feel our generosity as oppression.Eric Hoffer
Intolerance is the most socially acceptable form of egotism, for it permits us to assume superiority without personal boasting.Sidney J. Harris
No human trait deserves less tolerance in everyday life, and gets less, than intolerance.Giacomo Leopardi


Tolerance is the willingness to accept actions we believe to be inappropriate or even wrong because it would be worse to take action against them. Tolerance is community-oriented. Ideally, all bad behavior should cease, but it is unrealistic to think that society could succeed in enforcing this ideal. Tolerance understands this.

Determining what should and what should not be tolerated takes experience and prudence. Every society must tolerate some wrongdoing, because the price of eliminating it might be greater than the price of allowing it. For example, so long as private wrong doing does no serious harm to the public, tolerance is required; for the invasion of privacy necessary to correct every personal fault would likely be worse than the fault itself.

However, it cannot be that serious wrongdoings should be tolerated for social order. Some situations warrant the toleration of some wrongdoing, but no situation makes every act permissible. We should, as a society, tolerate a certain amount of rudeness in the name of free speech and arrogance in the name of individual expression. But to tolerate crimes such as rape and murder would be wrong, since tolerating them would do greater harm to the community than correcting them would.

In the past, people understood tolerance as accepting other people for who they are, giving them the same rights we have to hold their own beliefs and live their own lifestyles (although those beliefs are different from ours, and we think they are misguided).

Tolerance was an attitude towards other people and their rights – it had nothing to do with the truth or otherwise of their beliefs. This kind of tolerance means I should welcome my Muslim neighbor, and extend to her the same rights and dignity that I want her – and society – to extend to me. It does not mean that I have to pretend I think Islam is a true description of the way the universe is.

Today, by a strange reversal, tolerance has come to mean not disagreeing with anyone. Blandly pretending that all beliefs and all lifestyles really are equally valid. You have your truth; I have mine.

But this is nonsense.

In practice, we do not think that something can be true for you but not for me. We know that some things are true whether or not anyone believes them. You can stand on top of a tower block, and look over the edge, and say ‘Gravity may be true for you, but it isn’t true for me.’ But if you jump off, you will descend towards the ground with just the same acceleration, whether or not you believe in gravity – because gravity describes the way the universe really is, whether we like it or not.

In practice, we do not tolerate everything. We do not seriously think that pedophilia is acceptable. We do not think it was OK for those terrorists to attack the World Trade Center, because they were just working out the implications of what was true for them, and making their own lifestyle decisions.

We know intuitively that some things really are true, and some things really are right. Not just true for me, or right for me, but always true and always right.

We need to get back to that earlier understanding of tolerance as accepting other people for who they are, giving them the same rights we have to hold their own beliefs and live their own lifestyles. This kind of tolerance is characterized by the words of the philosopher Voltaire who said:

I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.Voltaire

But the contemporary view of tolerance – that all beliefs and lifestyles really are equally valid, has two huge problems:

(1) If there is no real truth, there is no reason for me to be tolerant

Without some kind of beliefs which causes me to value you a person, even though I disagree with you, why should I be tolerant towards you? If you are getting in my way, why should I not walk over you, if I have the power to do so? I need a reason to be tolerant. Contemporary tolerance is like a cartoon character who has run over the edge of the cliff, and is still running for all he is worth, without yet realizing that there is nothing underneath him holding him up. We need a belief that provides freedom and dignity for the individual, so that we do accept other people whose beliefs and lifestyles are different from ours.

(2) If there is no real truth, we cannot place any limits on tolerance

If society is to be able to function, we need some shared beliefs that will move us to value other people as people, even when they disagree with us, but which will also enable us to put limits on our individual freedom of choice, for the good of society as a whole. The question is, how can you set those limits in a society where there are no shared beliefs?

We need a moral law, to which we are all accountable, (and thus which allows us to say that pedophilia, or mass murder, are wrong always and everywhere, not just in some times and some places).

Where is such a belief to come from? I want to hold up for consideration the possibility that “Virtue” holds the answer to this question.

With Virtue there is clear freedom – and mutual respect and tolerance. The message of Virtue provides a reason for me to be tolerant towards my Muslim neighbor More than tolerance, it teaches me to love my neighbor just as I love myself. Yet at the same time it gives me a reason to say to the pedophile or the mass murderer, ‘no, that is unacceptable.’ There is a clear framework of what is morally allowable.

Unity and self-sacrifice, of themselves, even when fostered by the most noble means, produce a facility for hating. Even when men league themselves mightily together to promote tolerance and peace on earth, they are likely to be violently intolerant toward those not of a like mind.Eric Hoffer

Tolerance and Hazing

Something that really bugs the heck out of me and flies in the face of both “Brotherly Love” and “Tolerance” has always been “Hazing”. As a coach, hazing is always lurking there in the shadows. It comes and it goes with classes and personalities, but I believe that we coaches need to be ever vigilant for hazing and send a real clear message at the first “wiff” its ugly odor. That message should be loud and clear that we don’t tolerate hazing in our program and in our school.

“Hazing” refers to any activity expected of someone joining a group that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate. In the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, hazing practices were typically considered harmless pranks or comical antics, but those days are long gone. Today we know that hazing is a complex social problem that is shaped by power dynamics operating in a group and/or organization and the result is that someone always ends up getting hurt, physically, emotionally, or both.

Hazing is often an activity that a high-status member orders other members to engage in or suggests that they engage in that in some way humbles a newcomer who lacks the power to resist, because he or she want to gain admission to a group.

Hazing can be classified into three categories: subtle, harassment, and violent.

Subtle Hazing: Behaviors that emphasize a power imbalance between new members/rookies and other members of the group or team. Termed “subtle hazing” because these types of hazing are often taken-for-granted or accepted as “harmless” or meaningless. Subtle hazing typically involves activities or attitudes that breach reasonable standards of mutual respect and place new members/rookies on the receiving end of ridicule, embarrassment, and/or humiliation tactics. New members/rookies often feel the need to endure subtle hazing to feel like part of the group or team.

Examples of Subtle Hazing:

  • Deception
  • Assigning demerits
  • Silence periods with implied threats for violation
  • Deprivation of privileges granted to other members
  • Requiring new members/rookies to perform humiliating duties
  • Socially isolating new members/rookies
  • Line-ups and Drills/Tests on meaningless information
  • Name calling
  • Requiring new members/rookies to refer to other members with titles (e.g. “Mr.,” “Miss”) while they are identified with demeaning terms
  • Expecting certain items to always be in one’s possession

Harassment Hazing: Behaviors that cause emotional anguish or physical discomfort in order to feel like part of the group. Harassment hazing confuses, frustrates, and causes undue stress for new members/rookies.

Examples of Harassment Hazing:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Threats or implied threats
  • Asking new members to wear embarrassing or humiliating attire
  • Stunt or skit nights with degrading, crude, or humiliating acts
  • Expecting new members/rookies to perform personal service to other members such as carrying books, errands, cooking, cleaning etc.
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Sexual simulations
  • Expecting new members/rookies to be deprived of maintaining a normal schedule of bodily cleanliness.
  • Be expected to harass others

Violent Hazing: Behaviors that have the potential to cause physical and/or emotional, or psychological harm.

Examples of Violent Hazing:

  • Forced or coerced alcohol or other drug consumption
  • Beating, paddling, or other forms of assault
  • Branding
  • Forced or coerced ingestion of vile substances or concoctions
  • Burning
  • Water intoxication
  • Expecting abuse or mistreatment of animals
  • Public nudity
  • Expecting illegal activity
  • Bondage
  • Abductions/kidnaps
  • Exposure to cold weather or extreme heat without appropriate protection

Hazing only exists because parents, teachers and students permit it to exist. That may sound very harsh but unfortunately it is true. Parents need to demand that hazing be met with zero tolerance. Coaches and Teachers must not look the other way and ignore what can be passed off as school or team traditions. Students have to speak up and tell an adult when they see or hear of any form of hazing going on.

It’s that simple.

Do you remember what hazing felt like when you were a kid? Remember the humiliation and embarrassment?

I for one could have gotten by just fine without it… about you?

In Roman society all religions were to the people equally true, to the philosophers equally false, and to the government equally useful. It would be difficult to deny that this is true of some of today’s ”developed” societies…Tolerance with respect to what is not important is easy.Lesslie Newbigin

Is Tolerance a Virtue?

By Donald Demarco

There are two kinds of tolerance. One is rooted in skepticism, the other in respect for truth and the dignity of others. We might refer to the first kind as pseudo-tolerance, the second as genuine tolerance.

The great philosopher Jacques Maritain has stated that “the man who says: ‘What is truth?’ as Pilate did, is not a tolerant man, but a betrayer of the human race.” There is genuine tolerance, he goes on to say, when a person is convinced of a truth, but at the same time recognizes the right of others who deny this truth to speak their own mind. Such tolerance is respectful of other people and recognizes that they seek truth in their own way and may one day discover the truth they presently contradict, given their natural intellectual capabilities that are ordered to truth.

The person who is genuinely tolerant does not turn his back on truth, as did Pilate, nor does he disparage others for not having already found it. He retains his commitment to truth and respect for others as he lives in the hope that they, in their own individual way, will finally come to honor the truth that, for whatever reason, has eluded them.

Pilate’s view makes it clear that if we do not know any truth, we should be tolerant of anything. But such a “tolerance” is based on intellectual bankruptcy. The truth will make us free. This freedom allows us to hold fast to truth while patiently tolerating the actions of others who are still seeking it.

The distinction between pseudo-tolerance and genuine tolerance is critical because the former is often mistaken for the latter. This mistake leads to a radical devaluation of the importance of truth, especially truth of a moral nature. Consequently, a person may be accused of being “intolerant” simply because he holds to a truth..

When pseudo-tolerance, severed from any relationship with truth, reigns supreme, it is elevated to the exalted, if unwarranted, stature of being a first principle. Therefore, people will say, “Who knows what is true or false, right and wrong? Let us all be tolerant.” Nonetheless, as is only too evident in the world today, these disciples of Pontius Pilate can be utterly intolerant of anyone who takes a position that is anchored in truth.

At the same time, it is important to recognize the limitations of tolerance, even in its most genuine form. Tolerance is a secondary phenomenon. It is a response to something that preceded it. People often ignore what initially transpired and urge others to be tolerant of it. Yet, it is critical to understand the moral nature of what took place first. It is preposterous, in the true sense of the word (prae + posterius = putting “before” that which should come “after”), to make tolerance a first principle and demote the initial action to a place of secondary importance.

In addition, tolerance does not advance the situation to its natural point of completion. An artist should not “tolerate” an incomplete work of art, for example, but finish it. Tolerance is not progressive. It is a status quo strategy. Tolerance puts people in a state of moral suspension.

Tolerance, of itself, might not be a virtue. Pseudo-tolerance that is founded on ignorance, cowardice, or apathy is actually a vice. In order for tolerance to avoid being a vice, it must be founded on a positive regard for truth and an abiding love for others. Genuine tolerance owes its genuineness to its association with virtue (especially love, prudence, and courage). But as mere “tolerance,” it might be too broad and a contextual notion to be classified as a virtue.

Presently, we hear equally loud voices proclaiming the need for both complete tolerance and zero tolerance. The secular position on tolerance is simply incoherent. Society is currently reeling from “tolerance confusion” (an essentially intolerable state) because it continues to ignore the fundamental question of truth. The first question we should ask is not “How can I be more tolerant?” but “How can I come to know the truth?”

Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding.Mahatma Gandhi
Intolerance betrays want of faith in one’s cause.Mahatma Gandhi

Bullying: Guidelines for Teachers

Some anti-bullying policies actually do more harm than good. Educators can use the following tips to intervene appropriately when bullying occurs.


Stop the bullying immediately.

Stand between the bullied student and the bully(ies), blocking eye contact. Don’t send any bystanders away. To avoid escalating the tension, wait until later to sort out the facts. Talk to the parties involved separately once they are calm.

Refer to school rules regarding bullying.

Speak in a matter-of-fact tone of voice to describe what you heard or saw. Let all students know bullying is always unacceptable.

Support the bullied child.

Do this in a way that allows him or her dignity and to feel safe from retaliation. Make a point to see the child later in private if he or she is upset. Increase supervision to assure bullying is not repeated.

Offer guidance to bystanders.

Let them know how they might appropriately intervene or get help next time. Tell them you noticed their inaction or that you’re pleased with the way they tried to help.

Impose immediate consequences.

Wait until all parties have calmed down. Do not require that students apologize or make amends that may be insincere. The consequences should be logical and connected to the offense. A first step could be taking away social privileges i.e. recess or lunch in the cafeteria.

Notify colleagues and parents.

Let the bully know he or she is being watched.

Follow up and intervene as necessary.

Support the bullied child and the bully, enabling them to vent feelings and recognize their own behavior. The bully may need to learn new methods of using his or her power and influence in the classroom.


Do not confuse bullying with conflict. Bullying is a form of victimization, and addressing it as a “conflict” downplays the negative behavior and the seriousness of the effects. Educators should strive to send the message that “no one deserves to be bullied,” and to let the bully know the behavior is wholly inappropriate.

Do not use peer mediation. It can be very upsetting for a child who has been bullied to face his or her tormentor in mediation. Giving both parties an equal voice can empower the bully and make the bullied student feel worse. In addition, there is no evidence that peer mediation is effective in stopping bullying.

Do not use group treatment for bullies. Some schools use therapeutic strategies such as anger management, skill-building, empathy-building and self-esteem building to reach the bully. In practice, group members can actually reinforce each others’ bullying and antisocial behavior.

Bully, Bullied, Bystander…and Beyond

By the Southern Poverty Law Center

A 14-year-old hangs herself. a 19-year-old jumps off a bridge. A 13-year-old shoots himself. Another loads his backpack with stones and leaps into a river. Still another swallows her father’s prescription meds to get rid of the pain and humiliation. A 17-year-old is found hanging outside her bedroom window. Two more 11-year-old boys kill themselves within 10 days of each other.

These young people all had two things in common: They were all bullied relentlessly, and they all reached a point of utter hopelessness. Bullying is seldom the only factor in a teenager’s suicide. Often, mental illness and family stresses are involved. But bullying does plainly play a role in many cases. These students feel that they have no way out of the pain heaped on them by their tormentors—no one to turn to, no way to tell others. So they turn the violence inward with a tragic and final exit.

Most of the bullying that helped cause these tragedies went on without substantial objections, indignation, intervention or outrage. The bullies were far too often excused, even celebrated. The bullied were usually mourned after their deaths. But at times they were also vilified in order to justify the bullies’ actions. We are devastated by the final act of violence but rarely outraged by the events that lead up to it.

An Act With Three Characters

There are not just two, but three characters in this tragedy: the bully, the bullied and the bystander. There can be no bullying without bullies. But they cannot pull off their cruel deeds without the complicity of bystanders. These not-so-innocent bystanders are the supporting cast who aid and abet the bully through acts of omission and commission. They might stand idly by or look away. They might actively encourage the bully or join in and become one of a bunch of bullies. They might also be afraid to step in for fear of making things worse for the target—or of being the next target themselves.

Whatever the choice, there is a price to pay.

Actively engaging with bullies or cheering them on causes even more distress to the peer being bullied. It also encourages the antisocial behavior of the bully. Over time, it puts the bystanders at risk of becoming desensitized to cruelty or becoming full-fledged bullies themselves. If bystanders see the bully as a popular, strong, daring role model, they are more likely to imitate the bully. And, of course, many preteens and teens use verbal, physical or relational denigration of a targeted kid to elevate their own status.

Students can have legitimate reasons for not taking a stand against a bully. Many are justifiably afraid of retribution. Others sincerely don’t know what to do to be helpful. But most excuses for inaction are transparently weak. “The bully is my friend.” “It’s not my problem!” “She’s not my friend.” “He’s a loser.” “He deserved to be bullied—asked for it.” “It will toughen him up.” “I don’t want to be a snitch.” Many bystanders find it’s simply better to be a member of the in-group than to be the outcast. They’re not interested in weighing the pros and cons of remaining faithful to the group versus standing up for the targeted kid.

But injustice overlooked or ignored becomes a contagion. These bystanders’ self-confidence and self-respect are eroded as they wrestle with their fears about getting involved. They realize that to do nothing is to abdicate moral responsibility to the peer who is the target. All too often these fears and lack of action turn into apathy—a potent friend of contempt (see resources).

The Rewards of Bullying

Bullying often appears to come with no negative consequences for the culprits. Indeed, it can provide a bounty of prizes, such as elevated status, applause, laughter and approval. The rewards contribute to the breakdown of the bystanders’ inner objections to such antisocial activities. As a result, you soon see a group of peers caught up in the drama. Once that happens, individual responsibility decreases. The bully no longer acts alone. The bully and the bystanders become a deadly combination committed to denigrating the target further.

This “trap of comradeship” reduces the guilt felt by the individual bystanders and magnifies the supposed negative attributes of the target. “He’s such a crybaby. He whines when we just look at him.” “She’s such a dork. She wears such stupid clothes and walks around with her head hung down.” The situation becomes worse when the victim’s supposed friends stand idly by—or, worse, join in with the bullies. The hopelessness and desperation of the target is compounded by the realization that these “friends” abandoned him.

All this leads to more serious problems. The lack of sanctions, the breakdown of inner objections, the lack of guilt and the magnification of a target’s weakness all contribute to the cultivation of a distorted worldview. This worldview reinforces stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination. That, in turn, hinders kids from developing empathy and compassion—two essentials for successful peer relationships.

The Fourth Character

Another potential actor can bring the curtain down on this tragedy. This fourth character—the antithesis of the bully—gives us hope that we can break out of the trap of comradeship. This character can appear in three different and vital roles—those of resister, defender and witness. He or she actively resists the tactics of the bullies, stands up to them and speaks out against their tyranny. The fourth character might also defend and speak up for those who are targeted. Bullying can be interrupted when even one person has such moral strength and courage. This fourth character is a reminder that choices are possible, even in the midst of the culture of meanness created by bullying. Here are some examples:

  • When the high-status bully in eighth grade told all the other girls not to eat with a new girl, Jennifer not only sat with the new girl, but took in stride the taunts and threats of the bully and her henchmen: “Miss Goody-Two-Shoes, you’re next!”
  • When a group of teens mocked a student because of his perceived sexual orientation, Andrew refused to join in and shrugged off the allegations: “What, are you chicken?” and “You’re just like him.”
  • When a group of 7-year-olds circled Derek, taunting him with racial slurs, another 7-year-old, Scott, told them “That’s mean.” He turned to Derek and said, “You don’t need this—come play with me.” The bullies then targeted Scott. Derek told him he didn’t need to play with him if the others were going to target him, too. Scott’s response: “That’s their problem, not mine.”
  • When 15-year-old Patricia was tormented by her peers at a small-town high school, one senior named Brittne stood up for her. But Brittne’s courage cost her dearly. She was cyberbullied, verbally attacked at school and nearly run over on Main Street. For the girls’ own safety, they were moved to another school in an adjacent town. Brittne had been in line to be valedictorian. Moving meant she had to give that up, costing her several scholarships. Yet Brittne says, “I would defend her again.”

Fifty Pink Shirts

Bullying can be challenged even more dramatically when the majority stands up against the cruel acts of the minority. For instance, seniors David and Travis watched as a fellow student was taunted for wearing a pink polo shirt. The two boys bought 50 pink shirts and invited classmates to wear them the next day in solidarity with the boy who was targeted.

Most bullying flies under the radar of adults. That means kids can be a potent force for showing up bullies. But speaking out can be complicated, risky and painful. Even telling an adult can be a courageous act. As parents and educators we must make it safe for kids to become active witnesses who recognize bullying, respond effectively and report what takes place.

Establishing new norms, enforcing playground rules and increasing supervision are policy decisions that can help reduce the incidents of bullying. So can having a strong anti-bullying policy. It must include procedures for dealing effectively with the bully, for supporting and emboldening the bullied and for holding bystanders to account for the roles they played.

Merely attaching an anti-bullying policy to the crowded corners of our curriculum is not enough. With care and commitment, together with our youth, we must rewrite this script—create new roles, change the plot, reset the stage and scrap the tragic endings. We can’t merely banish the bully and mourn the bullied child. It is the roles that must be abandoned, not our children.

We can hold bullies accountable and re-channel their behaviors into positive leadership activities. We can acknowledge the nonaggressive behaviors of the kid who is bullied as strengths to be developed and honored. And we can transform the role of bystander into that of witness—someone willing to stand up, speak out and act against injustice.

Bullying takes place because some people feel a sense of entitlement, a liberty to exclude and intolerance for differences. We can use the stuff of everyday life to create a different climate in our schools. This new climate must include a deep caring and sharing that is devoted to breaking the current cycle of violence and exclusion. It’s a daunting task but a necessary one.

The Wooden Bowl

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered.

The family ate together at the table. But the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.

The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. ‘We must do something about father,’ said the son.

‘I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.’

So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl.

When the family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone.

Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food.

The four-year-old watched it all in silence.

One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, ‘What are you making?’ Just as sweetly, the boy responded, ‘Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up.

The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.

The words so struck the parents so that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done. That evening the husband took Grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to the family table.

For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

Misconceptions About Tolerance

“Be egalitarian regarding persons.”

“Be elitist regarding ideas.”

The first principle is true tolerance, what might be called “civility.” It can loosely be equated with the word “respect.” Tolerance applies to how we treat people we disagree with, not how we treat ideas we think false. Tolerance requires that every person is treated courteously, no matter what her view, not that all views have equal worth, merit, or truth.

Don’t let this new notion of tolerance intimidate you. Treat all people with respect, but be willing to show them where their ideas have gone wrong. The modern notion of tolerance actually turns this value on its head. It’s one of the first responses deployed when you take exception with what someone has said. “You’re intolerant.”

To say I’m intolerant because I disagree with someone’s ideas is confused. The view that one person’s ideas are no better or truer than another’s is simply absurd and contradictory. To argue that some views are false, immoral, or just plain silly does not violate any meaningful definition or standard of tolerance.

The irony is that according to the classical notion of tolerance, you can’t tolerate someone unless you disagree with him. We don’t “tolerate” people who share our views. They’re on our side. There’s nothing to “put up” with. Tolerance is reserved for those who we think are wrong, yet we still choose to treat them decently and with respect.

This essential element of classical tolerance—elitism regarding ideas—has been completely lost in the modern distortion of the concept. Nowadays if you think someone is wrong, you’re called intolerant no matter how you treat them.

Whenever you’re charged with intolerance, always ask for a definition, then point out the contradiction built in to this new view.

Most of what passes for tolerance today is intellectual cowardice, a fear of intelligent engagement. Those who brandish the word “intolerant” are unwilling to be challenged by other views, to grapple with contrary opinions, or even to consider them. It’s easier to hurl an insult—“you intolerant bigot”—than to confront the idea and either refute it or be changed by it. In the modern era, “tolerance” has become intolerance.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

In Meridian, Miss., police routinely arrest and transport youths to a juvenile detention center for minor classroom misbehaviors. In Jefferson Parish, La., according to a U.S. Department of Justice complaint, school officials have given armed police “unfettered authority to stop, frisk, detain, question, search and arrest schoolchildren on and off school grounds.” In Birmingham, Ala., police officers are permanently stationed in nearly every high school.

In fact, hundreds of school districts across the country employ discipline policies that push students out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system at alarming rates—a phenomenon known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., recently held the first federal hearing on the school-to-prison pipeline—an important step toward ending policies that favor incarceration over education and disproportionately push minority students and students with disabilities out of schools and into jails.

In opening the hearing, Durbin told the subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “For many young people, our schools are increasingly a gateway to the criminal justice system. This phenomenon is a consequence of a culture of zero tolerance that is widespread in our schools and is depriving many children of their fundamental right to an education.”

A wide array of organizations—including the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP and Dignity in Schools—offered testimony during the hearing. They joined representatives from the Departments of Education and Justice to shine a national spotlight on a situation viewed far too often as a local responsibility.

“We have a national problem that deserves federal action,” Matthew Cregor, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, explained. “With suspension a top predictor of dropout, we must confront this practice if we are ever to end the ‘dropout crisis’ or the so-called achievement gap.” In the words of Vermont’s Sen. Patrick Leahy, “As a nation, we can do better.”

What is the School-to-Prison Pipeline?

Policies that encourage police presence at schools, harsh tactics including physical restraint, and automatic punishments that result in suspensions and out-of-class time are huge contributors to the pipeline, but the problem is more complex than that.

The school-to-prison pipeline starts (or is best avoided) in the classroom. When combined with zero-tolerance policies, a teacher’s decision to refer students for punishment can mean they are pushed out of the classroom—and much more likely to be introduced into the criminal justice system.

Who’s in the Pipeline?

Students from two groups—racial minorities and children with disabilities—are disproportionately represented in the school-to-prison pipeline. African-American students, for instance, are 3.5 times more likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled, according to a nationwide study by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Black children constitute 18 percent of students, but they account for 46 percent of those suspended more than once.

For students with disabilities, the numbers are equally troubling. One report found that while 8.6 percent of public school children have been identified as having disabilities that affect their ability to learn, these students make up 32 percent of youth in juvenile detention centers.

The racial disparities are even starker for students with disabilities. About 1 in 4 black children with disabilities were suspended at least once, versus 1 in 11 white students, according to an analysis of the government report by Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

A landmark study published last year tracked nearly 1 million Texas students for at least six years. The study controlled for more than 80 variables, such as socioeconomic class, to see how they affected the likelihood of school discipline. The study found that African Americans were disproportionately punished compared with otherwise similar white and Latino students. Children with emotional disabilities also were disproportionately suspended and expelled.

In other studies, Losen found racial differences in suspension rates have widened since the early 1970s and that suspension is being used more frequently as a disciplinary tool. But he said his recent study and other research show that removing children from school does not improve their behavior. Instead, it greatly increases the likelihood that they’ll drop out and wind up behind bars.

Punishing Policies

The SPLC advocates for changes to end the school-to-prison pipeline and has filed lawsuits or civil rights complaints against districts with punitive discipline practices that are discriminatory in impact.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of school resource officers rose 38 percent between 1997 and 2007. Jerri Katzerman, SPLC deputy legal director, said this surge in police on campus has helped to criminalize many students and fill the pipeline.

One 2005 study found that children are far more likely to be arrested at school than they were a generation ago. The vast majority of these arrests are for nonviolent offenses. In most cases, the students are simply being disruptive. And a recent U.S. Department of Education study found that more than 70 percent of students arrested in school-related incidents or referred to law enforcement are black or Hispanic. Zero-tolerance policies, which set one-size-fits-all punishments for a variety of behaviors, have fed these trends.

Best Practices

Instead of pushing children out, Katzerman said, “Teachers need a lot more support and training for effective discipline, and schools need to use best practices for behavior modification to keep these kids in school where they belong.”

Keeping at-risk kids in class can be a tough order for educators under pressure to meet accountability measures, but classroom teachers are in a unique position to divert students from the school-to-prison pipeline.

Teachers know their students better than any resource officer or administrator—which puts them in a singularly empowered position to keep students in the classroom. It’s not easy, but when teachers take a more responsive and less punitive approach in the classroom, students are more likely to complete their education.

The information in “A Teacher’s Guide to Rerouting the Pipeline” highlights common scenarios that push young people into the school-to-prison pipeline and offers practical advice for how teachers can dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.

How can school districts divert the school-to-prison pipeline?

  1. Increase the use of positive behavior interventions and supports.
  2. Compile annual reports on the total number of disciplinary actions that push students out of the classroom based on gender, race and ability.
  3. Create agreements with police departments and court systems to limit arrests at school and the use of restraints, such as mace and handcuffs.
  4. Provide simple explanations of infractions and prescribed responses in the student code of conduct to ensure fairness.
  5. Create appropriate limits on the use of law enforcement in public schools.
  6. Train teachers on the use of positive behavior supports for at-risk students.