Viewpoint: Begin with tolerance • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Viewpoint: Begin with tolerance

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Political disagreements in workplace give employees chance to practice acceptance without escalation

Marie Eisenstein
Marie Eisenstein

As a political scientist who studies American politics and religion, my take on how to manage hot-button political debates in the workplace will not be a view from a legal perspective. I assume most businesses have human resource departments, possibly their own legal counsel, for such guidance. No, mine is a view based on the study of political behavior and, specifically, the role of political tolerance, which is a seminal virtue of democratic governance.

Political tolerance is defined as the willingness to extend speech, petition and assembly to those with whom you disagree. This last part is huge: those with whom you disagree. You cannot be politically tolerant of someone if you agree with their perspective. There is nothing for you to forbear if you agree with someone. Agreement is not tolerance. You cannot be politically tolerant if you are indifferent to someone’s perspective. Again, what is there to forbear if you don’t really care one way or the other? No, political tolerance only comes into play when you really, really disagree and dislike the other’s views (even vehemently so), but yet are still willing to afford said individual the right to speech, petition and assembly.

Within the context of the workplace, let me suggest that advocating the practice of political tolerance is preferred to forced ideological compliance. We live in an America where we are constantly told we have “rights.” And, of course, we do. Yet, we are not doing a very good job of being humble enough to allow those with whom we disagree to even hold dissenting beliefs let alone to act on them. We come up with all sorts of reasons why this shouldn’t be: hate speech, phobias of all sorts, cries of un-Americanism, accusations that a viewpoint is so disagreeable that it amounts to harassment — and the list could no doubt go on.

Within our workplaces, there is, I am sure, a lot of casual conversation that takes place that has political overtones. In those moments, when you find said opinion objectionable, extend political tolerance. Recognize that you do not have to agree with or accept someone else’s perspective, but you can politically tolerate it. You can disagree without requiring the perspective (or individual) with which you disagree to be removed from your workplace.

Many individuals bemoan that there is so much divisiveness in America today, particularly in our political bodies such as the U.S. Congress or across political lines (Democrats versus Republicans). And that trend certainly is true. Yet, within our own sphere of influence, are we making efforts to bridge our divisions? One way to build those bridges is a commitment to political tolerance. You don’t have to agree or accept someone’s views to agree that extending the right to hold those beliefs is fundamental to individual as well as democratic integrity. While it is certainly true that our constitutional protections are prohibitions from infringement on our rights by government, there is no reason why, as individuals in our respective workplaces, we cannot willfully choose to practice political tolerance.

I can hear it now, the “but what about…” situations. What about those who do not agree with same-sex marriage? What about those who do not agree with critical race theory? What about those who argue that the United States is a Christian nation? Are these not homophobic, racist and dangerous views, respectively, that deserve censor? I am not going to run down that rabbit hole here — I don’t have enough column space. But what about any of those views?

It really needs to be recognized that the quest to shut down or to “cancel” the expression of views we do not agree with — to want someone fired, to want their speech or perspectives banned from the marketplace of ideas — is political intolerance. There is no easy way to say this: shutting others down because you disagree with them — even when you argue that their views are repugnant, even if their views are actually repugnant — is not a virtue. It is a vice. Political tolerance is a virtue. Political intolerance is not. It has a totalitarian bent; we should not engage with it.

Click here to read more from the December-January 2023 issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.


  • Marie Eisenstein

    Marie Eisenstein is an associate professor of political science at IU Northwest with numerous research publications on political tolerance.

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