Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Tolerating the Tolerant Revisited

Back in February when I began this blog, I penned an entry entitled, "Tolerating the Tolerant". I believe the main premise is very important in today's world. So, I'm reprinting it below.

There’s a program, “Teaching Tolerance”, that’s been around for a quite a few years. While I certainly salute and applaud the motivation behind the development of this educational vehicle, I seem to a have a real problem with the choice of the word tolerance.

From my humble perspective, teaching people to tolerate others sends an unintentionally negative message. The whole point of this program is to motivate each of us to be more accepting of diverse cultures. In my book, there is quite a bit of difference between acceptance and tolerance.

To accept something is to agree to receive it. When a person agrees to receive something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they must like it or embrace it unto themselves, but it does mean they are affirmatively building a bridge between the person making the offer and themselves.

The concept of acceptance does not necessarily involve any hierarchy. Whether you’re the king/queen or a slave you can choose to accept or not accept something offered.

Tolerance, however, is a completely different animal. In order to be in a position to tolerate something or someone, one must be ABOVE or SUPERIOR to the thing or person to be tolerated. In other words, tolerance is TO ALLOW something or someone to exist and the only way one can allow something is if they exercise some measure of control over the person or situation.

Consequently, I believe the unintended subliminal message of the “Teaching Tolerance” Campaign is to tell people that they should tolerate others because they are better or superior to the people or cultures they should tolerate. And, if you think about it, that’s not a very uplifting nor positive message.

Far worse, if you happen to be a member of the ethnic or cultural group to be tolerated, you are being told that you are inferior to the people who should learn to tolerate YOU! It’s like being hit with a double whammy. The predominating group ALREADY thinks you ARE inferior and now the very campaign that seeks ultimately to lift you up is concurrently reinforcing the idea that you are INDEED inferior.

As the Tao Te Ching teaches that we are all part of one universal cosmic force, no one is superior or inferior to another. With no hierarchy, the concept of toleration doesn’t need to be learned nor promoted.


  1. Trey,

    I have always avoided using the word "tolerance" but never paused to reason why. You have put it very clearly. To tolerate is to put up with, to accept with reservations, or to grit your teeth and bear it. Or, as in measuring tensile strength of metal or stressed concrete, It is the load tolerance it will accept before breaking. None of my definitions has the warm fuzzy feeling of acceptance of or embracing a group or idea.

    I guess I just can't tolerate the word tolerance.

  2. Dino,
    I like the way you applied the word to the "tensile strength of metal or stressed concrete". Often, when we examine a word via all its defintions, we find the word has meanings we didn't intend. As I write on the topic of tolerance a lot, I'm going to use this example you've provided to underscore my point. Thanks.


Comments are unmoderated, so you can write whatever you want.