Monday, December 15, 2008


Tol"er*ance\, n. [L. tolerantia: cf. F. tol['e]rance.]
The power or capacity of enduring; the act of enduring; endurance.
Diogenes, one frosty morning, came into the market place, shaking, to show his tolerance. --Bacon.
2. The endurance of the presence or actions of objectionable persons, or of the expression of offensive opinions; toleration.
3. (Med.) The power possessed or acquired by some persons of bearing doses of medicine which in ordinary cases would prove injurious or fatal.

I’ve got a bit of a quibble with this word. To me, “tolerance” has a negative implication, as the above definition demonstrates. You can say, “I twisted my ankle halfway through the marathon, but I tolerated the pain and made it through, even though it hurt like a mofo.” Or, “There’s this really rude chick in my Chem class, and she’s always texting and talking and disrupting the instructor. I can’t believe the professor tolerates her garbage.” In both examples, the thing that is being tolerated is something distasteful, while you (the “tolerator”) do your best to ignore the unpleasantness and still achieve something productive.

Doesn’t this seem a little backwards? Isn’t language like this preemptively setting us up for failure, and automatically putting us on a pedestal over the people/culture/objects we are tolerant of?

Maybe it’s just semantics, and maybe I’m overcritical. Still, I can’t help but cringe when I hear people preaching tolerance, when I’d rather hear words like “equality” or “fellowship” or even “peace.”

Because that’s what I think it should be—a greater understanding of people with different viewpoints. Sometimes saying, “All right, let’s just agree to disagree.” Acknowledgment that maybe your way isn’t the only way, or even the right way. An attempt to live in harmony with your neighbors, without judging them for their beliefs.

Does that make sense? Am I overanalyzing things?

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