CHS students balance tolerance with tradition



Hailing from Kenya, senior Kathleen Muloma said her parents have instilled in her the importance of certain traditions.

“We are always having family and friends stay at our house. Providing food and a place to stay is a very important aspect of the Kenyan lifestyle,” she said.

Tradition plays a significant role in shaping the beliefs and customs of the average person, but it is not an uncontested influence on the way people see the world. A recent study by the Pew Research Center highlights a political divide between emphases on tolerance and tradition, with liberals focusing on the former and conservatives focusing on the latter.

According to history teacher Will Ellery, the root of that conflict lies in differing viewpoints on progress.

“They do hearken to different perspectives on progress, whether it’s rooted in change or it’s rooted in adjustment,” he said. “Tradition, it would seem, holds an idea that there are fundamental values in place that should not necessarily be changed. The modern perspective of tolerance is that those values aren’t necessarily concrete, that they’re malleable, that they can be adjusting with the times.”

A partisan divide does exist in the emphasis on different values, he said, but the division may be generational.

“Youth tend to skew toward the tolerance end, and older voters tend to skew toward the tradition end. It’s always been that way. The perspective of ‘What is tolerance?’ changes,” he said. “We go back to that quote that ‘If you’re conservative when you’re 20, you have no heart, and if you’re liberal when you’re 60, you have no mind.’”

According to Robert Robinson, sociology professor at Indiana University, a divide between favoring tolerance and tradition is often visible in political party association.

“Generally speaking, Republicans tend to be more for tradition, while Democrats tend to be more for change,” he said. “These trends are continually being fought for by both sides—by those who want to maintain tradition (conservatives) and those who want change (liberals), although what constitutes ‘change’ can have different meanings.”

According to Robinson, although society cycles from emphasizing one value to another, it embraces change more so than tradition.

“I’d say the overall trend is in favor of change,” he said. “This is especially true with regard to matters of race, gender, and sexual orientation. In all three of these cases, the predominant trend has been toward greater acceptance and equality.”


Muloma said she agrees that the current societal trend is toward social liberalism.

“With (events like) the recent legalization of gay marriage in Indiana, there is a clear depiction of the shift in views of our leaders and society. Although my belief system does not line up directly with some aspects of the liberal world view, I am so glad to see the shift in my generation where it is becoming less and less acceptable to be rude and bully someone because they are gay or because they have mental disabilities or because they are transgender,” she said. “I am so proud on how far our generation has come and the direction it’s going in loving people despite differences and views.”

According to Ellery, the most important issue in politics is the economy, despite the prominence of social issues such as gay marriage.

“Day to day, if you walk the halls of Carmel High School, people are not talking about the economy, but if I ask a class about gay marriage, I’ll get an instant response. If I ask about abortion, I’ll get an instant response. If I ask about legalization of marijuana, I will get an instant and overwhelming response one way or the other. It will continue to be, but only in the sense that they are surface issues,” he said. “When it comes to elections, we just had the most costly midterm election we’ve ever had. (There) are economic issues at play, and that will continue to drive the elections.”

However, in terms of ideological conflict, he said he doesn’t believe tolerance and tradition are mutually exclusive.

“There is very much a tradition of tolerance in America; it’s just been evolving, but it’s still rooted in fundamental principles of every man, every woman, every person, constitutional rights. It’s how you apply those constitutional rights on an issue-by-issue basis that is evolving within society,” he said.

e.zhu.laughingellergyMuloma said she agrees that the definition of tolerance is a key element of the debate.

“To me, tolerance is acknowledging and seeing differences between you and others, whether that be in belief system or preferences or past experiences and choices, and regardless of those differences, treating each other with respect, kindness and love,” Muloma said.

Ultimately, the ideal result in the conflict between tolerance and tradition, according to Muloma, is a balance between them.

“We have new traditions to make, new chants and dress-up days and festivals to create, and we also have moral responsibilities. How we teach and act toward people creates an irreversible ripple effect, to which we are all responsible,” Muloma said. “You’re one choice away from someone’s situation, and you are one step closer to continuing a legacy set before us by those before us. Both are our responsibilities and it’s honestly up to us what we do with it.”