In a world fraught with ethnic, religious, and sectarian tensions, “tolerance” is a familiar mantra. Diversity training sessions in schools and workplaces try to instill it. Mitt Romney, in his recent speech on faith, praised our nation’s embrace of it. The UN has even designated an International Day for it. (The date – mark your calendars – is Nov. 16.) Across the political spectrum, extolling tolerance is as obligatory as condemning terrorism.
Of course, no one could deny the misery caused by social divisions, from Iraq to the Balkans to Jena, La. The consequences can be as personal as hurt feelings or as sweeping as warfare, and show little sign of abating.
But Harvard social psychologist Todd Pittinsky believes that our reverence for tolerance may be misplaced. The tolerance agenda aims to improve society by eliminating negative attitudes, but has nothing to say about generating positive ones.