Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Creating a Culture and Climate of Civility in a Sea of Intolerance

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Creating a Culture and Climate of Civility in a Sea of Intolerance

Article excerpt


Bill Watterson created a well-known comic strip titled Calvin and Hobbes describing the raucous antics of a 6-year-old boy, Calvin, and his real-only-to-him stuffed tiger companion, Hobbes. In that comic strip Watterson (1996) describes the six-year-old hero giving a lame defense for not doing the right thing and denies that moral value provides any meaning for philosophically sophisticated people like him (p. 129). Hobbes, Calvin's conscience-cum-tiger, however, raises some doubts about Calvin's notion of tolerance.

In this paper, like Hobbes, the authors express some concerns about tolerance as currently advocated and address this controversial concept and its part in contemporary American society. Lickona (2002) defines tolerance as "the ability to accept the values and beliefs of others," (p. 1). This definition of tolerance poses a dilemma: how can individuals be asked to accept all people's values and practices when they may believe some of those ideas and behaviors wrong? How, for example, can one ask supporters on opposite sides of the abortion and homosexuality debates to accept the validity of each other's perspectives?

Consider the case of Carrie Prejean. As a contestant in the 2009 Miss USA Beauty Pageant, openly gay pageant judge Perez Hilton questioned her views on gay marriage. When she replied that she believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman, Mr. Hilton called Ms. Prejean "the B word" on his popular blog and said he would have liked to call her something stronger (Hilton, 2009). Other gay activists took a more measured and civil approach. For example, Rich Tafel (2009) of the gay advocacy group the Log Cabin Republicans said:

"I think it was a perfectly acceptable question. And though I completely disagree with her, I think her response was perfectly fine, too. Calling this woman an unprintable name, as Perez Hilton did, is indefensible. All of us have a belief system, whether it is informed by our faith or a secular worldview. The freedom to share those even unpopular positions is what makes this nation great. In my hundreds of debates for gay rights with Christian conservatives, I was often subject to mean and personal attacks and at times was concerned for my safety. As the tide turns in favor of gay equality, what a sad victory it will be if we become the new bullies. The crime here is not that people have opinions we disagree with. The crime is treating those who disagree with us with the same incivility that they treated us to."

Another example involves President Barack Obama speaking of another ideological tension when he delivered the commencement address at Notre Dame University in spring, 2009 amid much public controversy and protest demonstrations. Some "pro-life" persons thought that the president should not be invited to speak at a Catholic university because his "pro-choice" position on abortion contradicts Church doctrine. Many also objected to the university awarding him an honorary degree. President Obama devoted a section of his address to the protests--not on the merits of one abortion position over another but rather on public discourse; i.e., on how Americans should engage in public debate on issues with which they fundamentally disagree. President Obama observed that while opposing views would and should be presented with passion and conviction, they could be done "without reducing those with differing views to caricature (Obama, 2009)." Then he suggested a model: "Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words (Obama, 2009)" in the context of "... friendship, civility, hospitality and especially love" (Obama, 2009). These words are remarkably consistent with our concept of authentic tolerance.

Even raising questions about the dogma of such experts can be problematic as Harvard University president Lawrence Summers discovered after he simply speculated about differences in scientific ability between men and women (Mansfield, 2006) resulting in his forced resignation. …

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