I got sucked into a quarrel yesterday. I hate to admit that, but there it is. The only value such an experience has is the self-examination it evokes, not just to determine whether I was truly “right” but more importantly, to determine what made me lose my cool. I raised my voice—something I never do—then realized too late that I was attempting to communicate to a mind that had refused to engage. I’m a quiet, soft-spoken old lady, but there is in me a veteran classroom manager of raucous and rowdy teenagers. In the past, I’ve been known to use a voice that might make a drill sergeant envious.

For those whose response to debatable questions is reason, intolerance must be recognized instantly as the brick wall, shut-down, closed mind that it is. Not just debate, but communication itself is closed. A difference of opinion is one thing; a denial of indisputable fact is another. That’s what made me lose my cool and raise my voice.

It was traumatic for me. And in this morning-after examination, I must first fault myself for not recognizing the situation in time. I was off-guard because I’ve known this person for years, and, although I knew his political opinions differed from mine—something I never had a problem with—I wasn’t aware until yesterday that his antipathy for differing opinion extended to anger and denial of reality. Now that it’s exposed, I must not only regret raising my voice, but grieve for the friendship. I know close-mindedness is also close-heartedness. I’ve lost trust in his goodwill, which I hitherto took for granted. In other words, what I thought is simply not true, and that’s both shocking and hurtful.

It does, however, make me also examine the nature of intolerance, which is actually a quite impersonal idiosyncrasy, since it necessarily dehumanizes the other. Differences of opinion are relatively easy to surmount among well-meaning friends. Intolerance is not. If you hate me because I’m black/white/other or because I’m Catholic/Protestant/other, there’s nothing I can do to change that. But it’s also true that if you hate a fact I’ve had the misfortune to mention–to the extent that you must cancel its reality and feel you must by the same illogic cancel my reality, there’s nothing I can do to change that either.

The strangeness of intolerance is that it renders one helpless, reduced to fruitless shouting to ears intentionally deafened. It’s a kind of self-inflicted disease, the underlying disease of the cancel culture, and I guess the underlying disease of many ruptured relationships as well. It’s dangerous politically, socially, and worst of all, spiritually. It prohibits all things good: simple goodwill and courtesy, generosity, peace, patience, charity—a willingness to listen, to hear. And it may be the real pandemic of our times, more dangerous than a mere virus.