f The Wittenberg Door: Dolly Parton and Tolerance – Tactical Considerations – Part 1

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Sunday, January 04, 2015

Dolly Parton and Tolerance – Tactical Considerations – Part 1

A few years ago, while writing for another Web site, I penned the following post. I came across it recently while going through some old files and thought that the readers of this site might find it of interest.

In a USA Today interview, Parton’s Plea for Tolerance, Dolly Parton explains that her ability to identify with the outcast enabled her to pen the song Travelin’ Thru. This Oscar-nominated song was written for the movie Transamerica, which tells the tale of a pre-operative “transsexual” traveling the country with his son.

Some things are strange to me, and some things are odd . . . But I don't condemn. If you can accept me, I can accept you.

Dolly Parton

Definition of Tolerance

“Tolerance,” classically defined, refers to how you treat someone with whom you disagree. You show tolerance when you treat your opponent with dignity, fairly represent his views, and graciously engage his ideas—or, to put it simply, you don’t kill him for having divergent views.

The classical definition of tolerance has fallen on hard times. Post-modernity has refashioned the term into something warm and fuzzy—a verbal counterpart to the ubiquitous smiley face.

No longer is tolerance characterized by charitable disagreement. The modern notion is that to be tolerant is not to disagree at all, but rather that all views ought to be embraced equally—sort of.

Not only has the term been redefined, but it has also been narrowed: only those views deemed socially acceptable are accorded toleration. All other views are marginalized.

“Poor Dolly” Disclaimer

Before I comment, I want to make it clear that it is not my intention to beat up on Dolly. She seems to me to be a very sweet, decent lady. The reason I’m using her comments is because I think they reflect how most people view tolerance.


In Dolly’s comment above, she mentions that she doesn’t “condemn” things that seem strange or odd to her. In context, she’s talking about people’s behavior or “life choices.” Basically, she’s saying that she doesn’t judge.

The not-judging aspect of modern tolerance usually takes two forms:

  • “You shouldn’t judge”

  • “Who are you to judge?”

You shouldn’t judge.
When I’m confronted with this objection, I typically respond with a clarification question: “Is it your view that it’s wrong to judge?” After he affirms I follow-up with, “Then why are you judging me?”

You see, what he’s saying is that, in his judgment, it’s wrong to judge. This is obviously self-refuting. By pointing out the contradiction, it helps to pave the way for a discussion of true tolerance.

Who are you to judge?
When confronted with this question, respond with, “Who are you to ask ‘Who am I to judge?’”

Behind his question is a presupposition that you don’t have the authority to make the judgment. In essence, you are asking the same question: by what authority do you ask me about my authority? Responding this way shows that his presupposition dies by its own sword. Also, by using this tactic, you pave the way to talk about Who actually has the ultimate authority to judge.

Part 2

In part 2 we’ll consider the caveat to modern tolerance, as introduced to us by Ms. Parton: “If you can accept me, I can accept you." We’ll also see that those holding this view don’t tolerate what they consider “intolerance.”

--The Catechizer

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