By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Is It a Virtue? In My View, Yes.

Pope John XXIII blesses the crowds after his c...Image via Wikipedia
I recently glanced at a college syllabus and read this under the category of "Course Outcomes":

"Develop a tolerance for opposing views, and for those who might criticize your views."

In my view, the ability described above is indeed a virtue--you could classify it as an application of the virtue of temperance (for example, just because someone dislikes something you like, you take it in stride; it is an eminently foreseeable part of life) and/or of justice (give everyone what is due to them--respect for someone's freedom to contradict you in matters of substance or taste is that person's right emanating from that person's human dignity). I would also view this ability to tolerate contradictions as an expression of the theological virtue of charity (respecting the other's views or tastes is certainly part of agape).

Now, does this virtue mean that you surrender your own views or stop arguing for them? Of course not. But this virtue does mean that you do not take opposing views or criticism as a personal affront or shock requiring hammer blows. The virtue of serene toleration thus calls for the virtue of fortitude: of refusing to given in to the fear of "losing," a fear which challenges all of us. For, in the end, discussion and debate are not matters of winning or losing, but rather of learning, even if learning requires, as it surely does, revising our views.

So why is it that so many, especially in matters of politics or religion, can't abide even the honest expression of opposing or contradictory views? It could be that the answer lies in the triggering of our own personal insecurities when a pillar of our own personal set of opinions is contradicted. To detach oneself from such insecurities is quite a pleasant thing--you are not only doing a favor to your "opponent" but also to yourself and to your own sanity. Moreove, you will gain and keep friends, maximize your influence, increase your ability to persuade, and also strengthen your ability to get others, in turn, to listen to you. These benefits seem to me to make the serenely tolerant approach very much an application of the virtue of prudence.

Specifically referring to matters of taste, the Romans (or someone else communicating in Latin) said "De gustibus non disputandum est" ("About tastes, it must not be argued"). A famous quote, often erroneously attributed to Augustine of Hippo, says the following: "In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas" ("In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, freedom; in all things, charity"). This saying was quoted by Blessed John XXIII in one of his encyclicals (Ad Petri Cathedram, Section III, 8th paragraph).

Think of how much this old wisdom is lacking in the utterly wasteful liturgical debates that consume the time of so many of my fellow Catholics--debates often encouraged by individuals who should know better. The same lack can surely be found in some of the debates in other religious traditions. And, of course, let's not even mention the area of politics.

Update: For a concrete example of the application of this virtue in the context of friendship, see the comments to the immediately, chronologically, preceding post "Our Primary American Reality" published on July 4, 2011.

Enhanced by Zemanta