Humility and Tolerance Go Together

Name an issue: Immigration. Abortion. Free speech. Lockdowns. Riots. Race relations.

Many people are absolutely sure that they know what the problems and solutions are. If you don’t agree with them, then they think you must be ignorant, stupid, or just plain evil. They know better than you, not only about how to run society but also about how to run your life.

Unlike those super-smart people who are always right, I’ve been wrong a few times in my life. And I know it.

As a result, I’m reluctant to impose my moral views on anyone else. “Live and let live” is my motto.

If I disapprove of what someone is doing, I realize that I might be wrong. Unless it’s crystal clear that they’re causing grievous and unjustified harm, I’ll stay out of it.

That was the attitude of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), one of America’s Founders. In a 1738 letter to his parents, he wrote:

“… a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes that all the doctrines he holds are true, and that all he rejects are false. And perhaps the same may be justly said of every sect, church and society of men when they claim infallibility …

… all that should be expected from me is to keep my mind open to conviction, to hear patiently and examine attentively whatever is offered me for that end; and if after all I continue in the same errors, I believe your usual charity will induce you rather to pity and excuse than blame me.”

The world would be happier and more peaceful if we could all adopt such a tolerant and rational attitude toward disagreement.

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
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