Tolerating Intolerance

Tolerating Intolerance

I presume that tolerance is a good thing, and imagine that most people think the same. The capacity to accept differences in beliefs and behavior is essential to maintaining civil order, to say nothing of keeping the peace at home. In fact, tolerance is a key component of all relationships, as it defines the capacity to stretch our boundaries to accept others as they are. This principle also plays an important role in national and international relations, as the recent explosion of violence against U.S. interests in the Islamic world has shown.

The protests over an anti-Islamic video parallel a number of issues these days when it's hard to find a good guy on either side. The individual responsible for making it was probably aware that he was going to stir up a strong response. Does that mean he should't have made the video? Should his right to free speech have been curtailed because of the provocative nature of his message? Are we supposed to tolerate the actions of individuals whose motives are to provoke extreme reactions?

It's easy to condemn the protestors because people were killed and property was destroyed. Obviously, the violence seems out of proportion to the offense and isn't acceptable to peace-loving people. Yet the murderous acts of some allow us to reject the underlying feelings of many who were profoundly offended by the video's message. I want to be clear -- I am not condoning violence nor defending Islam, but I am seeking to explore my own tolerance for people whose beliefs are so radically different from my own.

There are a couple of astrological angles to this story that I want to mention. The first is that the long running squares between explosive Uranus and potent Pluto are extremely close to exact now, signaling an uptick in tension and a breakdown in social order. Second, aggressive Mars is in powerful and persistent Scorpio, where deep-seated resentments rise and scores are sometimes settled. Still, I think a particularly instructive astrological transit is the presence of Jupiter in Gemini, which is usually perceived as relatively innocuous.

The reason for pointing to this philosophical planet's passage through jittery Gemini is that beliefs and values may be less rooted than usual now. Truth, another characteristic of Jupiter, is tricky in shape-shifting Gemini, where what you see is rarely what you get. The force of anger in the Islamic world appears to be connected to deeply held beliefs. The apparent certainty of those beliefs is used by its adherents to justify the violent response to the video. But, as is usually the case, it's unconscious uncertainly that drives destructive behavior. Both the maker of the video and the protestors against it reflect a lack of inner faith that requires external reinforcement by attacking others.

Traditionally, wise Jupiter is uncomfortable in Gemini. Its breadth of mind and depth of faith are scattered in the blustery winds of the airy Twins. Its highest truths are diluted in our sound-bite culture that leaves little time for reflection. We're quick to jump to conclusions, grabbing on to the nearest bits of information to make judgments about all sorts of things, including the beliefs of others. It takes time, study and serious thought to bring real understanding to most situations, especially those rooted in historical and cultural differences. And even then the greatest scholars must fight through their own prejudices to grasp the larger meaning of these events.

But the core issue here is tolerance. How much do we stretch ourselves to accept ideas and actions that make us uncomfortable? Where is the line between tolerance and judgment about right and wrong? There is, of course, no single answer, as this is about an ongoing process, like breathing out and breathing in. Perhaps this is where philosophical Jupiter in flexible Gemini can be of service.

We could easily see this transit as a source of half-baked notions, intellectual slight of hand and moral disingenuousness but it's more than that. It is also about stretching the skin of tolerance, that living barrier between ourselves and others, to examine our differences in less judgmental ways. Instead of having skin so thin that every opposing idea is taken as a personal offense, or having skin so thick that no dissenting voices will be heard, we can learn to be more supple. Sacrificing the certainty of being right for a less judgmental perspective doesn't mean that we have to accept every offending thought and action. It's simply stretches the skin of tolerance so we can recognize more of what we have in common instead of limiting ourselves by focusing on the painful divisions that keep us apart.