Tolerance Means Dialogue

Lecture Date


Speaker Comments

No One Person Has a Monopoly on Truth – Jamin Enquist

I see tolerance as the ability to listen to ideas and beliefs without immediately accepting or rejecting those ideas or beliefs. It is a curiosity for knowledge outside one’s worldview and humility that recognizes no one person has the monopoly on truth or morality. I see tolerance as a means by which I have encountered life-changing perspectives and embarrassing ignorance. I grew up in a household that prescribed a very narrow worldview for how life is to be lived. My parents’ standards of morality, subjective as they were, became the first lens through which I saw the world. This lens taught me to listen for what was “wrong” in the ideas that conflicted with my beliefs.

It was not until undergrad, when I abandoned the narrow beliefs of my parents, that I began to “really” listen to real people. I began seeking to understand before being understood. I learned that when you stop and listen to perspectives that you are uncomfortable with, one of two things generally happens: One, you realize you are wrong and change your views or beliefs, or two, you realize you still feel confident in what you believed before the encounter. Regardless of which side you come out on, you will likely walk away from the experience better off than before. My personal experience has shown this to be true. I believe one of the worst feelings in the world is admitting that a belief you once adamantly held was wrong or mistaken. But every time I have experienced a major shift in my thinking and worldview, it has reinforced just how important the practice of tolerance is and the power it can have to make a person more loving and compassionate.

However, tolerance is not a justification for ignoring injustice. I believe there is a difference between allowing someone the freedom to live and express their worldview and allowing someone to practice a worldview that inflicts harm on the life, liberty, or happiness of another human. And in this sense, true tolerance may be a rather idealistic concept. The challenge is figuring out where the line is for where the practice of tolerance is helpful and where it is damaging to people suffering under extreme ideologies. This difficulty is exasperated by the fact that it takes a significant amount of tolerance even to debate where that line should be. But even if tolerance is more idealistic than practical, the benefit of embracing the humility that tolerance requires will always leave a person, or a society, better off.

Lastly, I see tolerance as vital to the function of democracy in the form of compromise. The very concept of democracy recognizes that there will always be competing perspectives among people on how to live life, practice religion, and define the purpose of political structures. Without tolerance, the ability of people to compromise is significantly undermined, and political instability is inevitable. Thus, if American democracy is to be saved, I believe each of us needs to practice the curiosity for knowledge outside of our worldview and be humble enough to recognize that no one person has a monopoly on truth and issues of morality.

Tolerance Means That I Won’t Be Scared to Wear My Hijab Anymore – Ferida Osman

Tolerance. Webster’s Dictionary defines tolerance as “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.” This is the definition most people veer towards when speaking of tolerance, especially religious tolerance. But Webster’s dictionary provides additional definitions, such as “capacity to endure pain or hardship,” “the allowable deviation from a standard,” and my personal favorite, the “relative capacity of an organism to grow or thrive when subjected to an unfavorable environmental factor.” Growing up as a daughter of Muslim Afghan immigrants in a post-9/11 world, these are the definitions of tolerance that I have understood to be the true meaning. After 9/11, Muslims have become the deviants of a standard and have had to learn to thrive in unfavorable environmental factors.

Tolerance. My father shaved his beard to be more tolerant. My brothers changed their names to be more “American.” My sisters ran from the beautiful and inspiring words of Islam.

I was called Bin Laden’s daughter. I was accused of a bomb threat in the third grade because I was the only Muslim in my grade who fit the description of wearing “a pink sweater and black pants.” I grew up in Suffolk County. There, tolerance was more of a fallacy that people used to cover their true intolerance, hiding behind their belief in the First Amendment.

Tolerance. I once wore a hijab. I started wearing it when I was 16 years old. Then one day, in Penn Station, in the center of one of the world’s most “tolerant and diverse” cities, I was spit on and told to go back to my fucking country. This is my country. I was born and raised here. I only knew this to be my home. But that day, as I stood looking down at the spit on my chest, tears were slowly streaming down my face, and tracks were being called; I no longer felt this was my home. Every day since I shook in fear putting on the hijab. Tolerance—that is what made me take off my hijab.

Tolerance. My favorite definition, as I stated earlier, was the “relative capacity of an organism to grow or thrive when subjected to an unfavorable environmental factor.” I hope to live in a world where this definition of tolerance won’t be my favorite. A day where I can put my hijab back on without the fear of assault. A day where a Muslim Ban, a terrorist attack, or a war on terror doesn’t have to equate to the social persecution of my beliefs. A day where I do not have to say, “I’m Muslim, but I’m not a terrorist.” A day where I don’t have to defend my beliefs because two minutes of inaccurate reporting from FOX News and CNN force me to. For me, tolerance is a fallacy I’m subjected to live under.

Tolerance. Sometimes, just like the definition, everything is not the way it seems.

Tolerance Means That Everyone Feels Welcome in Education – Meredith Frank

In my first year at Hofstra, I learned three unexpected lessons: My sociology professor never intended for anyone to relate to the article about the run-down public school, talking about my experience applying for scholarships somehow made me brave, and taking the free Hofstra Shuttle was uncool. While toiling away at my impoverished Metro Detroit public school, I knew a better life rested upon a 4.0 GPA and high SAT score. My mother warned me that Hofstra students came from a different tax bracket, and therefore, a different set of values than my Midwestern, working-class heart could compute. I spent my freshman year wishing that my differences were tolerated by my classmates, but now I’ve learned I must also be tolerant of them.

In a dialogue on tolerance, both parties must approach the table with a recognition of their differences, but leave emotion behind. This is easier said than done. Looking around my lectures, I see students around me predisposed with texting, online shopping, and general antipathy towards the lesson. I cannot help my jealousy. I am jealous that they are fourth-year students, a milestone I fear finances may prevent me from reaching. I am jealous that they can afford to put their grades at risk. But most of all I am jealous that they don’t see how fortunate they are to be in the classroom. The Constitution protects my right to equal educational opportunities, but it didn’t mandate my public school to have hot water or soap. After entire semesters without a teacher in multiple classes, I view the caliber of Hofstra’s education as a privilege, not a right.

Sharing my experience has more often resulted in pity than tolerance. It seems that both sides believe they are correct. Those who don’t worry about making the next payment view me as an outlier who snuck into their world. Whereas I have an unwarranted belief that I should be held in higher regard than other students because of my struggles. Neither argument is one of tolerance, and both are blatantly incorrect.

I have learned that I should feel grateful and proud to receive an education, instead of holding my fellow students in contempt. I did not choose my disadvantaged upbringing, but they also did not select the advantages of theirs. Although they are different than me, I can work alongside my peers to create an atmosphere of tolerance. I can begin a dialogue about the barrier to higher education, introducing them to the unanticipated problems people in my world face when they are at a financial disadvantage, and they can provide the resources and connections to solve the problem. To me, tolerance is not just reluctant acceptance, or a pitying understanding. It is two sides coming together to make a difference.

Speaker Information

Opening Remarks

Dr. Susan Poser
President, Hofstra University

Dialogue Catalysts
William Eskridge, Jr.
John A. Garver Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law School

Robin Fretwell Wilson
Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Chair in Law at the University of Illinois College of Law

Julian Ku
Maurice A. Deane Distinguished Professor in Constitutional Law

Student Essay Winners

Jamin Enquist (3L)

Ferida Osman (2L)

Meredith Frank (Hofstra undergraduate communications student)

This document is currently not available here.