I hate the word “tolerance.” Every time I hear someone say it, I think of two possible reasons they would choose that word: Either they believe they are superior and they will “put up with you” despite the fact they think they are right or better; or, they don’t understand the implications given when they use that word.
To me, the term tolerance in inherently arrogant. In order to understand where I’m coming from, let’s take a look at what it means. According to Webster’s, one of the definitions states that tolerance is the ability to allow or accept something that is harmful, unpleasant, etc.
Last time I checked, being Black, or Asian, or Arab, or White wasn’t harmful or unpleasant. You don’t get a rash from touching someone Muslim or Christian or Jewish. You can’t “catch” Black or Brown.
I am more than willing to use the word if I’m talking to my kids, for example.
“I will tolerate your messy bedroom if I know you are studying.”
“The amount of tolerance I put up with due to your shenanigans should qualify me for a Nobel Peace Prize! But I do it because I love you.”
See, we have been using it wrong. It’s supposed to be reserved for your children when they are testing your patience so you won’t go to jail.
So, when I hear it used by people or groups as a code word for acceptance toward a race, nationality, faith, a person that is different than yourself, a mixed marriage or relationship…well, that’s just…ugly.
If your goal is to extend an olive branch to another group because you believe you are a true collaborator of unity, then you’re going about it the wrong way. What you’ve done by saying, “We should practice tolerance with groups that are not like ours,” is telling the “other” that they are less than you. Again — inherently arrogant. In fact, this is what I hear you saying when you use the words tolerance, tolerate, or tolerant:
“Listen, we both know that my group is better than yours, bless your heart. And because I am so gracious, I am going to make you and everyone else I know believe that I am better than you by extending this ‘tolerance’ twig your way. If you choose to grab it, it shows you understand that I am better than you, and I will agree not to publicly shame you for being different. I’ll also get my group of people to pray for you at night to make sure you don’t continue on your heathen path and come to the light of civility one day.”
How wonderful you are! How absolutely better you are than me for putting up with my existence. Your parents must be so proud. I’m sure this is how Pocahontas must have felt when John Smith said, “No! She is not an ‘ignorant savage!’ She has nice hair!”
Okay, maybe he didn’t say those exact words, but I think it went down something like that.
So, how do we change the “tolerance” movement?
We need to move from a world of tolerance to a world of pluralism. The goal is acceptance. The goal is to believe what you believe, and respect others for not believing the way you believe. The goal is to understand that not everyone will be the same as you, and that’s okay.
We don’t need to be the same, believe the same, look the same, or marry the same to have validity to our lives.
What we need, however, is to agree that there will be times we disagree. We need to see the beauty in diversity. We need to understand that regardless of faiths, there’s a remarkable beauty in the fact that most people on earth have good morals and ethics.
And when we embrace that, when we understand that differences are needed in order to create this synergy of existence, we will then understand that using the word “tolerance” was not what we meant all along.
Maybe one day we can have a Museum of Pluralism that shows how really accepting we are of other people in this world. Until then, I guess I’ll just sit back and continue to wince every time I hear the word “tolerance” being thrown around, “bless their hearts.”