The Tolerant Few

Damon Runyon

Our Old Man said the human trait he most admired was tolerance in the sense of forbearance in judging of the acts and opinions of others. He said ninety-nine out of every hundred men honestly believed they possessed tolerance but that only about ten in every hundred actually did.

Our Old Man said he himself had long labored under the impression that he was about as tolerant as they come on the opinions of others. He said in fact he made quite a point of his tolerance, especially in public argument. He said his favorite quotation was Voltaire’s statement that he disagreed with what another man said but would defend to the death his right to say it.

Our Old Man said he felt this sounded grand but that one night he found himself thinking that he would not defend to the death or even to the extent of a slight wound, Joe Peters’ right to say that a pointer was a better all-around hunting dog than an Irish setter because it was positively wrong and Joe Peters was a fool and a man would be out of his mind to defend the right of a fool to say something that was wrong.

Our Old Man said then it suddenly occurred to him that he invariably found himself thinking that every man who disagreed with him was a fool. He said he realized that it was his secret conviction that no man who took the opposite side of an argument should be permitted at large, and that he could not recall any occasion of debate when he conceded to himself that the other side was right. Our Old Man said it was at this moment that he saw that he was tolerant of the opinions of others only when he found those opinions coinciding with his own.

He said it was a great shock to him to see that he was not only lacking in tolerance of others’ opinions, but that he was in truth most intolerant. He said then he commenced to closely observe those with whom he disagreed and thought were fools and he could see that they in turn thought he was an absolute dolt and probably felt that he should be confined in the booby hatch.

Our Old Man said they were usually fellows who thought they were mighty tolerant, too. He said that after he got onto himself he stopped shooting off his bazoo about his tolerance of others’ opinions, even at the cost of such pleasure in argument, though he regained some of the pleasure, vicariously, by following Joe Peters around.

He said Joe Peters always prefaced his remarks in argument with the statement that he had no patience with any opinions not in agreement with his own and that therefore anything he had to say would be biased and probably unfair. Our Old Man said Joe Peters was intolerant, but honest, except maybe in that opinion about a pointer being better than an Irish setter. He said no man could be honest in that opinion unless he was crazy.

Our Old Man said he liked to feel that he had regained some of his tolerance in judging of others’ acts even after he got wise to himself on his lack of tolerance of opinions, but that he was not sure he had been able to do so. He said often after he had made public excuses of some fellow citizen’s conduct, he had found himself secretly wondering if the citizen had not been in the wrong. Our Old Man said if he had been completely tolerant, his conscience would not have questioned afterward.

He said the ratio of tolerance among women was about one completely tolerant woman to every half million. He said maybe he had been living in the wrong part of the world but that he could not remember having met more than a dozen completely tolerant women in his life and those were very old. He said women were more tolerant of the opinions of others than men but far less tolerant of acts. He thought that was because women often do not understand opinions but seldom mistake acts.

Our Old Man said young women sometimes had a little tolerance in their make-up but that he doubted it would assay more than twenty per cent while middle-aged women, especially the married ones, rarely showed a trace. He said on the other hand it had been his observation that middle-aged married men were more inclined to tolerance than bachelors of any age and he thought that was because middle-aged married men understood through their own temptations and perhaps experiences, the acts that the intolerant criticize.