What happened to tolerance? | Guest Column

by Bill Criddle

Special to the Sounder

I read Michelle Loftus’s column in the Islands’ Sounder (12/21 edition) and was impressed at the courage she had to publicly explain her thinking regarding the 2016 presidential election in our very liberal environment.

A few pages later in the same edition of the Sounder, I was deeply saddened when reading the “Response to Loftus” letter penned by three of her fellow islanders.

I have been on a mission for some time, attempting to persuade relatives, friends, neighbors, clients, and other acquaintances to stop vilifying those they disagree with, especially in the realm of politics. Many use derogatory verbiage to describe the individual as a total person, their thinking, their psychological “diagnosis,” their values (or lack there of), their intellect – you name it, they insult it, belittle it, condemn it. It seems this type of thinking has become rampant during the presidencies of George Bush Jr. and Obama, and it is certainly ramping up to continue – and get more intense – in the coming Trump administration.

There are consequences to these types of behaviors and this way of thinking, none of which promote constructive problem solving, constructive communication, creative thinking; all of which we need if we value getting along well as human beings – in government, in neighborhoods, in families. Our government has been gridlocked. Families are unable to celebrate the holidays together. Hate crimes and verbiage are on the rise. Psychotherapists are swamped with distressed, upset clients. Long standing friendships are at risk.

Communication between individuals with opposing views is almost impossible with such extreme attitudes toward differing opinions. The divisiveness in our country and the polarization will only get worse if we keep this up.

Equally dangerous is the effect this type of thinking on the individuals who are guilty of it. These individuals become more rigid, more condemning, more unable to see any value in opposing points of view – more bigoted. Also this thinking results in anger, which is very dangerous and totally shuts down constructive interpersonal relations.

Back to the article responding to Ms. Loftus. I highlighted all the insults and condemnations directed toward Republicans as a whole, toward Ms. Loftus and toward our president-elect. Insults to character, intellect, values. Every paragraph was laden with such verbiage: blinkered accommodation, political amnesia, less principled, hypocrisy, dangerous narcissist, played for suckers, cares little about people, bald-faced lies, henchmen, etc.

For years I have sensed a pride on Orcas Island in our tolerance of and desire for diversity, open-mindedness, our ability to communicate and discuss issues in an intellectual and constructive manner, our friendliness and concern for our neighbors – and all these are a risk if we do not work to correct this unhealthy, rigid, black and white thinking. We like to consider ourselves mature and sophisticated; the type of thinking and behavior I am concerned about is immature and even childish.

I think I have made my point – hopefully! I just hope that we on Orcas can become aware of these dangers and be introspective and self-aware enough to catch ourselves and corrected some of these very human, but dangerous, tendencies – for the sake of our selves, our relationships, and our precious community.

Bill Criddle lives in Eastsound.