Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Understanding tolerance

If I hear the word “tolerance again” I swear I’m gonna throw myself under a bus. I have no tolerance for how tolerance is used by the politically correct crowd.

I think I was a fly on the wall at the signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938. You remember that? That’s when Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister of England, conceded the Sudetenland to Adolph Hitler. “Come on chaps, we need some tolerance,” Chamberlain said. “The Nazis are really nice guys.”


We all know the outcome of that meeting.

Don’t give me the argument, “Dr. Joe, you’re comparing apples to oranges.” Your gonna’ lose that one, and furthermore that’s my line.


In our multi-cultural society tolerance has become the new messiah. Under the guise of enlightenment some sell their souls and others barter any semblance of critical thought for this new panacea, “tolerance.” The original perception of tolerance as the recognition of the rights of individuals to their own opinions and customs is the essence of a liberal democracy. Nota bene: I have no problem with that. However, today the implied meaning is skewed under the pretext of a New Age, broad swath of tolerance called political correctness.

Today it appears that every time we turn around there is something society is mandating that we are required to be tolerant of. There is an assumed enlightenment within the mainstay of America that dictates the perspective of the masses under the guise of tolerance. Any differentiation of what is presumed to be true is met with the contra argument that you’re offensive, insensitive, a bigot, or a racist. The common mantra is that you have a right to your opinions as long as it’s in agreement with politically correct America. So what happens to freedom of speech?

Maybe indiscriminate tolerance is not a virtue; maybe it’s actually a vice as pernicious as any other. Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” But that’s my point. Indiscriminate tolerance is oppressive to thought. If you don’t walk the party line you’re censored and forced to wear the scarlet letter.

In the movie “Lonesome Dove” Tommy Lee Jones plays Woodrow Call, a retired captain in the Texas Rangers, circa 1876. On a cattle drive from Texas to Montana, Call confronts some tough cowboys who are bullying a mere boy. Without hesitation, the captain pulls the cowboys off their horses and beats the bejesus out of them. He immediately turns to those watching the melee and says, “I will not tolerate disrespect!” I love Captain Call! You know what he stands for.


Indiscriminate tolerance inhibits our identity. Who we are, and what we stand for becomes nebulous and before long our national identity becomes a national crisis.

At what point does tolerance become surrender? At which point does too much tolerance become intolerance? If we tolerant enough we will then ignore all manner of offense? To ignore transgressions in the name of tolerance is to be an accomplice.

I’ve got windows to wash, so let me end this write with a story:

On Dec. 17, 1777 the Continental Congress met at Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia to discuss the fate of their fledging democracy. It was suggested that a prayer be made prior to the meeting. At first, the idea was met with disapproval. Who could deliver this prayer, an Episcopalian, a Quaker, a Congregationalist, a Presbyterian, an Anabaptist? Sam Adams rose and said, “I am not a bigot; I can pray with any man and hear a prayer from any gentlemen of piety and virtue who at the same time is a friend to his country.”


So what were the key words in his statement?

That was the first Congressional prayer; the first public act of religious tolerance and the right thing to do.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at