Tolerance is a buzzword in Western culture. Ironically, it frequently assumes the form of deadly arrows, aimed at shooting down all intolerant views which stand in opposition. Those who might view themselves as progressive tuck the arrows away in their quiver, and stand armed and ready to put an end to bigotry and primitive social segregation. However, how often do we really consider the implications of the word tolerance?
First of all, who wants to be simply tolerated?
It’s always helpful to think of synonyms when attempting to exposit the full-range and implications of a word. When we think of tolerance, we tend to think of putting up with, bearing with, or waiting out something. I tolerate the pain in my wrist because I have to at the moment. We may tolerate certain people because it would be inappropriate to do otherwise. Tolerance itself is a word that we tend to associate with an annoyance or a pain. So given the typical context of the word, who wants to be tolerated?
Secondly, tolerance often evokes intolerance
Many people who parade for tolerance end up being just as intolerant as the people they march against. The one thing they cannot tolerate is intolerance; so war is waged to pave the way for peace. Someone might say, for instance: your views or wrong, and your opposition to such-and-such a cause shows just how intolerant you really are. Someone might say that, but they could never call themselves tolerant. The whole system caves in on itself.
Thirdly, true tolerance can be permissive
Imagine if the Nazi’s had continued to be tolerated in Europe. Imagine if a wife tolerated her husband’s sexual abuse towards their children. Imagine if you tolerated a loved one’s destructive drug abuse. Tolerance is typically guised in the form of love; but ask yourself just how loving tolerance is in the three cases I mentioned above. Tolerance is capable of permitting great evils to persist—contrary to the popular belief that all intolerance is evil.
So how do we live?
To start, we need to realize that the word tolerance is not a noble word (and neither is intolerance). These words carry no intrinsic moral value, because they rely on particular circumstances to merit any kind of virtue.
What makes a person humane is not that they are tolerant. What makes a person honorable is how they treat people despite the fact that they disagree with them. Love assumes different actions according the corresponding circumstance. It is flexible, yet uncompromising. To love someone, and to respond to them accordingly, is far more powerful than to tolerate someone—which may only conceal or produce hatred. Be aware of the possibilities of tolerance.