Revised Spring 2008 Joern
Being able to tolerate situations in life requires copeous amounts of patience (#), as well as the ablility to listen(#). To be tolerable, one also has to obtain cultural, social and religious acceptance (#).
Society is made up of a diverse group of individuals. In any situation where different groups occur there will undoubtedly be a differing of opinions, beliefs, values, etc. In order for society to function in the most peaceful and successful way possible, people have to allow for their differences and exhibit toleration for the beliefs of others.
Traditionally communities in the western region and the small towns that are the foundations of many of the western states are conservative in nature. These areas are becoming more and more diverse as people immigrate to these areas that are less populated. As the diversity increases the traditions in the community remain rather rigid. While some aspects of life are allowed without question others are the perpetual taboo.
Religion is one of the areas where toleration seems to be the highest. Religion is seen as sacrosanct, however that is as long as that religion is traditional in nature. Some of the more unorthodox religion is still seen as “weird” or “wrong” to people who have lived in areas sheltered by mountains and plains. Churches belonging to the major religions of Christianity, Judaism, and even Scientology are represented in the communities and exist with out harassment from the culture that exists in other societies. In Montana there are currently seven synagogues; The Beth Aaron in Billings, Beth Shalom in Bozeman, Chabad-Lubavitch in Bozeman, Congregation B’nai Israel in Butte, Congregation Aitz Chaim in Great Falls, Bet Harim in Kalispell, and Congregation Har Shalom in Missoula. There are also four synagogues in Wyoming located in the larger towns of Casper, Jackson Hole, Laramie, and Cheyenne. Not only are these the large cities of Wyoming but Jackson Hole represents a population comprised significantly of immigrants to Wyoming from larger areas, Laramie is the site of a major university (universities typically having more tolerance to other groups due to high diversity), and Cheyenne the state capitol located slightly more than 100 miles from Denver (which is considered a major city in the country).2
One of the major religions not represented in Montana is the Islamic faith. There are no mosques located in Montana and only two in Wyoming (Cheyenne and Laramie).3 While Islam is a major religion of the world there are few to none practicing Muslims in Montana. This raises the question if this lack is due to the population demography or the remoteness of the area. While racism is not necessarily a problem in the area there is some wariness to outsiders. The culture consists of the small town mentality (even in the larger cities) where anything “new” may take awhile to be accepted by locals who have little to no experience in dealing with that particular type of situation.
Another major area where there is an apparent lack of tolerance in the region is that of homosexuality. Montana is currently siding with the majority of states in not having any laws that permit same sex marriages for gay and lesbian couples. The west is traditionally a highly conservative culture. This lack of toleration to homosexuality was exhibited in Wyoming when Mathew Shepherd, a college student at the University of Wyoming was beaten and tied to a fence where he died. This single event sadly demonstrates the feelings of many of the residents. This is not to say that this bias does not exist elsewhere or that all residents of the area are homophobic. It merely represents the feelings of some that homosexuality is “wrong” and “condemned by the bible”.
Toleration of other cultures and beliefs is a learned behavior. In a highly traditional society where the same cultural beliefs are passed down from generation to generation with little exposure to the larger world, the only way to increase toleration is by exposure to the different kinds of groups with different beliefs. This is easier said than done as it would require the immigration of members of these groups. When there is a documented lack of other members of the group it does not provide an incentive for other members of the group to re-locate to an area where they will be an even more significant minority.
The only way to improve toleration is to increase exposure which can only happen at the whim of the members of society. The actions of society are dictated by the so called climate of the society, in order for the climate to change the demography has to change and the demography can not change until the climate changes. It exists in a never ending loop that almost entirely lies with the younger generation to develop beliefs based on more education and increased exposure through a society more open to communication via the internet, television, etc.
The values that would contribute most to a more tolerant environment would be again the increase of diversity, equality for all groups and not just the traditional groups of society. Equality goes hand in hand with the Golden Rule of treating others how one would wish to be treated; most members of society would not willingly subject themselves to the kinds of abuse suffered by some minority groups. Understanding and empathy also contribute significantly to the toleration of society of more diverse groups.