I see the term “bigot” getting thrown around a lot lately, most of the time in a way intended to demean another person, and I feel the need to address this, because I don’t think everyone is fully understanding what this word actually means.
As defined by Merriam-Webster, a bigot is “a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc.; especially: a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group).”
Or, for the generic Google definition, “a person who is intolerant toward those holding different opinions.”
So let’s break those two down.
Intolerance means an absolute unwillingness to listen to the views or opinions of others.
What that doesn’t mean is that in order to avoid bigotry a person must adopt the views of another. Tolerance does not mean acceptance or agreement. It simply means living alongside and listening to those who hold different positions–in any category–than your own without you feeling the immediate need to divide and conquer.
Refusal to see another’s side is the abandonment of wisdom.
Mahatma Gandhi said “Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.” Both anger and intolerance come from a place of insecurity, from someone who believes himself the highest authority and needs no other directives than his own mind in order to understand the surrounding universe.
The subtly between tolerance and intolerance lies in one’s ability to converse freely in conversations with high emotional stakes and not lose one’s temper; to face someone whose beliefs far differ from your own and argue with a mouth that breathes grace and empathy even as you disagree; to stand up for what you believe is right without having to stand on anyone else to do so.
You can have a friendly, civil debate without any bigotry whatsoever.
You can talk to someone whose beliefs lie on the opposite end of the spectrum even, and neither you nor your opponent can be a bigot. But both of you must listen not with your mouth, but with your ears. You must not be thinking of your future reply before the other has even finished speaking. You must hear the other party out, recognizing that their beliefs are truths to them, just as your beliefs are truths to you. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree.
Calling names or labeling is only perpetuating a problem that already exists.
When it comes down to it, we’re all fighting against social injustice, and putting down another group in order to lift up your own is the exact kind of hypocrisy you claim to call out when labeling someone a bigot. Such attitudes don’t fix anything. Ever. Period. Especially when they’re used as a way to make someone feel ignorant. Whether or not you see that ignorance as truth is beside the point.
Firstly, ensure you’re using the word correctly, with proper dialogue, and a proper emotional stance. Secondly, think what positive things can come of using the word. Does it help or hinder the process? Does it bring justice to the world? Light? Truth? Does it further the cause or only enhance the division between two opposing sides? If the latter, why use it? There are other means of addressing a situation intellectually, emotionally, and with honor than calling someone out for bigotry.
So seek not simply to further your own ego by re-stating over and over again your own beliefs and thus dividing a society already split, but further your cause by seeking wisdom and understanding in all circumstances.
Think before you speak. Listen before you respond. And smile once in a while. You’ll go miles in this world.