Who's the Intolerant Jerk? It's a Game Anyone Can Play | Opinion

You may not know about it, but there's a popular Reddit space where users tell a story of interpersonal conflict and ask fellow users to decide who's in the wrong. Acting as a surrogate jury, Redditors weigh in and the most-upvoted comment becomes the verdict. While a crowd of 1.2 million Reddit followers may not be the ideal jury for deciding appropriate social behavior—the average age is 23—reading the discussion that follows is good fun. It's Judge Judy on steroids—Judge Judy crowdsourced.

It's called "Am I The A**hole?" (AITA), and there are three things that make it so popular: it's anonymous, it's simple, and perhaps most important, everyone knows an a**hole or two, but few people actually believe they are an a**hole. This Reddit space is a way to find out, without any personal downside.

One viral thread involved a boyfriend who posted this short message about his girlfriend: "Now that I'm thinking about it, she's gotten kinda gloomy because I've asked her to cook on date nights instead of going out more often," he wrote. He submitted his quandary to the Reddit jury, and Redditors tore into the cheapskate, who didn't realize he was treating his girlfriend like his personal servant.

Not long after I learned about AITA, I invented a game called "Who's the Intolerant Jerk?" I couldn't think of a better way to weigh in on the rampant cancel culture and intolerance infecting ordinary life in the small town in which I live—and the nation.

I live in Oxford, Mississippi, home to Ole Miss. Oxford is a beautiful town filled with young people and a large progressive liberal arts crowd who demand increasing levels of tolerance of their worldview, while offering less and less of it to those with whom they disagree.

In the game, I create scenarios and ask the folks listening to identify the intolerant jerk. I love doing it with young adults, but I also do it with grown-ups who have strong opinions about things—and a heavy dose of self-righteousness.

Here's the first hypothetical scenario. A young Jewish couple walks into the only mosque in town and asks to see the imam. After some simple greetings, the imam asks for the purpose of the visit. "We love your mosque and want to get married here," the young Jewish man says.

"I am touched that you find our mosque attractive, and I respect your faith tradition," the imam replies. "But we only marry Muslims in our mosque."

The Jewish couple doesn't like the answer, and asks the imam to reconsider. The imam says no again, and the couple storms out, calling the imam a bigot and threatening to sue for religious discrimination.

In this hypothetical scenario, who's the intolerant jerk?

Here's another one: A wealthy Catholic couple that owns a big business in town enters the gallery of a gay artist with a talent for painting large murals. "We admire your work and were wondering if you'd paint a replica of the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling of our domed office," the Catholic woman says. "We know it would take a long time, and money is no object."

"Thanks for the offer," the young gay artist replies. "But I'm not Catholic, don't care for your church's stance on gay marriage or abortion, don't believe in God, and don't like capitalism."

The Catholic couple, thinking the artist is negotiating for a higher price, presses on. But the artist won't budge, telling the couple there's no amount of money he'll accept to paint their mural. The couple storm out of the gallery, threatening to sue the gay artist for discrimination, calling him an anti-Catholic bigot on the way out.

In this hypothetical scenario, who's the intolerant jerk?

The Lyceum, oldest building on the campus
The Lyceum, oldest building on the campus of the University of Mississippi on April 12, 2008 in Oxford, Mississippi. Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The next one: A student in the local college transitions from female to male, and asks an old friend, who is an evangelical Christian, to start using the pronoun "he" instead of "she," going forward. "It would mean a lot to me," the transgender student entreats.

"I love and respect you," the young Christian friend replied, "but you're asking me to say something that's not in keeping with my beliefs. I really need to think about what you've asked."

Seeing that his transgender friend was not pleased with the answer, the young Christian presses on. "Look, you know I get my identity through Jesus Christ, and He animates every part of my life. How would you feel if I asked you to say the words, 'Jesus died for our sins' every time we spoke? Or say the Lord's Prayer every time we ate together? I've never asked you to do anything like that because I know you think my belief in Jesus is strange, and even a bit crazy. And I'm not offended," he laughed.

The friend wasn't finished. "To coerce you into saying something you don't believe is actually the opposite of love, the opposite of tolerance. Might you consider offering me that same grace?"

"I never thought about it that way before," the friend replied. "I need some time to think about this too. How about lunch?"

Who's the intolerant jerk this time? In that scenario, at least, no one is.

Thanks to social media's algorithms, it's never been easier to surround ourselves with like-minded people. One downside—and there are too many to count—is this: We start to see our groups as wise, morally upright, and tolerant, and those with whom we disagree as intolerant dopes. Those differences blind us to the things we share in common.

America is a vast place, filled with people from every part of the globe, every race and ethnic creed, and every faith tradition. And we come here because in America, we're free to pursue our passions and speak our minds without threat from the government—or warring ethnic or political tribes.

The late, great British historian Paul Johnson recently called America a "marvelous country" in a Wall Street Journal piece—a "working multiracial democracy" that he claimed was "the greatest of all human adventures."

"I do not acknowledge the existence of hyphenated Americans," Johnson noted. "They are all Americans to me: black, white, red, brown, yellow, thrown together by fate in that swirling maelstrom of history which has produced the most remarkable people the world has ever seen."

Of course, it is and should be unlawful to discriminate against anyone on the basis of religion, race, or sexual orientation in the public square, or what's known in legal circles as "public accommodations."

But how we handle our private and sometimes profound differences between and among us is a different matter altogether. And how we treat one another really matters.

As we navigate our way through the mosaic of American life and find ourselves in thorny political or philosophical thickets with people we like and love—and people we don't—we should ask ourselves, as we're doing what we're doing or saying what we're saying to someone with whom we fundamentally disagree, "Am I the Intolerant Jerk?"

And then we should do our best not to be that person—for our sake, and for everyone else's.

Lee Habeeb is vice president of content for Salem Radio Network and host of "Our American Stories." He lives in Oxford, Mississippi with his wife, Valerie, and his daughter, Reagan.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.