When I think of what I tolerate, a few things come to mind. I tolerate long lines at Starbucks to receive my passion tea lemonade. I tolerate commercials during my favorite TV shows. I do not, however, simply “tolerate” those with religious beliefs, sexualities, or ethnicities that differ from my own.
Tolerance, on the surface, sounds accepting and inclusive because no one typically wants to be labeled intolerant or judgmental. It has become the “politically correct” way to opt out of important conversations. While I understand the actual definition of tolerance encourages equality, the way it is utilized in our culture seems to be drastically different in many cases. Tolerance seems to be an exhausted and shallow term that we have used to confront difficult issues in society. There are many issues I countlessly hear members of our community say, “Well, I tolerate them,” yet continue to act and speak out in ways that minimize the groups of people they “tolerate.“
An example I’ve witnessed involves religion. Some individuals will “tolerate” others yet still hold the belief they are going to hell. It is extremely troubling. If tolerating is simply allowing other individuals to exist, we need a new definition of tolerance. That is a basic expectation I have for all of humanity. The current sentiment of “tolerance” feels like a cop-out and can have an extremely condescending connotation.
There are many different worldviews we are exposed to, especially in college. Yet if we dismiss them with “tolerance” we’re losing a wonderful opportunity to gain more knowledge, even if we ultimately do not agree. I fear that many individuals consider themselves “tolerant” even when they are truly emotionally intolerant. Tolerance is dangerous because it avoids confronting issues and can lead to growing tension and bitterness. When we simply “tolerate,” we halt conversations that are so incredibly important.
Rather than seeking understanding, we can just tolerate people who are different than us. To tolerate something is not to respect and appreciate, but to allow to exist. As a community that is united to become responsibly engaged in the world, tolerating is not enough. We are often too afraid to have legitimate discussions when we disagree. It may be the case that you do not accept certain lifestyles or choices (which is fine!), but then do not mark yourself as “tolerant.”
It is time to stop hiding behind the veil of tolerance. If you are truly tolerant, I hope your actions demonstrate that. If you are not, don’t be afraid to speak out and provide the other side with your explanations. We can all learn from each other, but that will only happen when we are honest in the beliefs we hold.
This letter to the editor was submitted by Meg Henrickson, Concordia 2013.