Nichols: When ‘Live and Let Live’ Goes Too Far

by | Apr 19, 2024 | Opinion

Alright, let’s have a real talk about this whole concept of tolerance and what it really means. You’ve probably heard people throw around phrases like “live and let live” or “don’t judge!” And on the surface, it sounds great, right? Be accepting, be open-minded, let people do their thing. It’s a nice sentiment.

But here’s the problem with that line of thinking when you take it too far. It’s just not realistic or even logical to tolerate literally everything. I mean, think about it – if we’re supposed to be accepting of all ideas and behaviors no matter what, does that mean we have to tolerate intolerance too? It’s a contradiction. At some point, you have to draw a line.

And that’s the thing – not all ideas or ways of living are equally valid or harmless. There are some beliefs out there that are just plain wrong, misguided, or even dangerous. But this extreme “live and let live” philosophy would have us accept and validate all of them in the name of open-mindedness. I don’t buy it.

Let’s look at some examples. What if someone holds racist views and thinks certain groups are inferior? Are we supposed to just smile and nod and respect that opinion? No way. That’s the kind of belief that causes real harm and goes against basic principles of equality. It doesn’t deserve tolerance.

Or what about the anti-critical thinking movement? Should we just let that slide because hey, everyone’s entitled to their own view? Never mind that it undermines rational discourse and actually jeopardizes informed decision-making. Sorry, but some ideas are just demonstrably false and dangerous, and we can’t pretend otherwise. It’s not just a harmless difference of opinion; it’s a threat to the very foundations of a functional society. We’ve seen the consequences of this kind of thinking—people making harmful choices based on “Trusting the Experts!”, which can have serious repercussions for public health, safety, and democracy.

And it’s not just fringe beliefs either. Take something like child sex changes and chemical castrations before they are at an age where they can make a sound decision. I know, I know, people love to say “don’t judge others’ personal choices.” But making irreversible medical decisions for children isn’t some neutral personal choice—it’s a profound responsibility that can have lifelong implications for the child’s health and identity. Are we really supposed to just shrug that off in the name of minding our own business?

That’s the core issue with this warped view of tolerance. It often stems from a well-meaning idea that we shouldn’t judge others and that all lifestyles are equally valid. But that’s simply not true. Yes, diversity is great when it comes to benign personal differences. But not all forms of “diversity” are positive or harmless.

Think about it this way. Throughout history, there have been a lot of people who sincerely believed terrible things. Racist ideologies, oppression of others, you name it. Do we look back on those views as just an innocent difference of opinion that deserved equal respect? Of course not. We recognize them as wrong and harmful.

So that’s the problem with unquestioning “tolerance” – it can lead us to turn a blind eye to attitudes and actions that are really damaging, just because confronting them might make us uncomfortable or seem “intolerant.” But that’s a cop out. If we never speak up against wrong and harmful ideas, how does positive change happen?

And look, I’m not saying we should all be going around self-righteously judging everyone else’s life. There’s a balance. Live and let live is good when it comes to stuff that doesn’t really affect others.

But when something crosses a line into toxic, harmful territory? Yeah, then we have a right and arguably even an obligation to say “hold up, that’s not okay.” To think critically, to have respectful but firm dialogues, and to stand up for principles like truth, compassion and ethics. Even if it’s unpopular or uncomfortable.

Because here’s the thing – all the progress and justice we enjoy in modern society didn’t come from people just going along to get along. Every stride forward, every expansion of rights and equality, happened because people were willing to challenge the conventional wisdom and status quo of their time.

I’m talking about the brave folks who stood up against slavery, against racial segregation, against the oppression of women and minorities. They were labeled as trouble-makers and radicals in their day. But they understood that to change hearts and minds and build a better world, you have to be willing to tell hard truths. To say “no, this common belief is wrong and I won’t accept it.”

That’s the kind of courage and conviction we need more of today. Not this mushy, anything-goes version of “tolerance” that’s really just conflict avoidance and moral apathy in disguise. But real deal, principled tolerance. The kind that starts from a place of open-mindedness and grace while still being willing to draw clear lines and make hard judgment calls.

It’s about balance. It’s about having the integrity to call out injustice and dangerous ideas when you see them. It’s about extending empathy and assuming good faith while still being discerning. It’s about passionately arguing for your ethics and values, but from a place of humility, not self-righteousness.

And yeah, that’s not an easy balance to strike. It takes wisdom and emotional maturity. It requires us to really examine ourselves and our own biases. To stay curious and question our assumptions. To be willing to change our minds and admit when we’re wrong.

But that kind of genuine, clear-eyed tolerance is so crucial if we want to build a society of reason, justice, and progress. We can’t do that by just rubber-stamping every view and behavior. We have to be willing to think independently, to speak up for what’s right, to change hearts and minds through open and earnest discourse.
The challenges we face as a society are too pressing for this cheap “I’m okay, you’re okay” cop out. We can’t combat all these backwards forces by just agreeing to disagree or staying in our lanes. We have to engage. We have to make a strong case for truth and justice.

And yeah, sometimes that means rocking the boat. It means being the dissenting voice, even among your own tribe. It means opening yourself up to criticism and backlash. But those are the risks that come with moral courage and intellectual honesty. Those are the costs of building a better world.

And that’s what I think we need to remember, especially now. Too many good people bite their tongues and opt out of the discourse out of fear. Fear of being controversial, fear of offending, fear of getting something wrong. And I get it. It’s scary to put yourself out there and stand for something.

But we can’t let that fear win out. We can’t let this warped, passive idea of tolerance take over as the default. The stakes are too high. The forces of ignorance, bigotry and dogma are too loud and too relentless. If those of us who believe in truth and justice don’t speak up just as passionately, we’re going to lose ground.

So let’s do this. Let’s commit to being compassionate and open-minded, but never at the expense of our core values. Let’s treat others with empathy and grace, but never shy away from principled stands. Let’s be the ones willing to ask hard questions, and put respect for truth over the desire to be liked.

It won’t be easy. There will be misunderstandings and hard conversations. You’ll be falsely accused of being a hater or a bigot at times. But I’m telling you, there is no better fight to fight. No higher calling than the pursuit of truth, justice and human progress. And it’s a fight that calls for moral backbone, not weak-kneed “tolerance.”

So let’s get out there and be the change. Let’s show the world what real deal, courageous tolerance looks like. Let’s have the hard dialogues and stand tall for our values, even as we make space for love and understanding. It’s a narrow road to walk. But nothing worth doing is easy.

In the end, it comes down to what kind of world you want to live in and leave behind. I want a society where truth matters. Where ethics and reason light the path forward. Where “tolerance” doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to harm and injustice, but rather confronting them head-on with principle and compassion.

If you’re with me on that, let’s link up and get to work. God knows this broken world needs more clear-eyed warriors for light and righteousness. It won’t be a cakewalk, and we’re sure to stumble at times. But as long as we stay committed to growing in wisdom and acting from a place of love, I know we can make a real difference.

So let’s get after it. One hard but necessary conversation at a time. One act of good faith and moral courage at a time. That’s how we change this game and leave the world better than we found it. Not by tolerating what’s intolerable – but by being intolerant of intolerance itself.

Brian Nichols is host of the Brian Nichols Show – powered by Amp America. You can follow Brian on X at @bnicholsliberty.

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