What is Tolerance

tolerance /ˈtäl(ə)rəns/

  1. the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with:
    • the tolerance of corruption
    • an advocate of religious tolerance

It seems there is a push, drive, move, what have you, to redefine tolerance as “full acceptance of opinions or behavior one does not necessarily agree with”. Furthermore it seems to be a oneway street. You must tolerate (i.e. accept) me and my beliefs but I don’t need to tolerate you or yours.

I understand that language changes, etymology is something of a hobby of mine, but to paraphrase the Bard, “Something is rotten in the state of our culture”. To be consistent, any redefinition of tolerance as meaning acceptance needs to work both ways. If you expect me to embrace your beliefs, you must also be willing to embrace mine. The problem is that our beliefs are contrary to one another. Knowingly entertaining two conflicting beliefs in a mile case is called self-deception (or reciprocal repression) but if carried long enough leads to serious mental disorders. If I believe something is wrong, and you believe it is right, we cannot accept each other’s point of view as being equally valid with our own. What we can do, however, is accept each other’s right to hold that view. That is tolerance.

The meaning of tolerance, however, is only part of the issue facing the American culture (if such a thing exists). An even more troubling practice is on the rise: that of labeling our opponents as intolerant or bigots while at the same time denying their right to hold beliefs contrary to our own. The trouble is that we have just acted the bigot ourselves. I witnessed an interesting exchange. Two people discussing a controversial topic. The first maintained what would be considered a “conservative” opinion and explained the reasoning behind their belief. The second became angry and accused the first of intolerance, of being a bigot and hate monger. By the end of her tirade (for such it was) she was actually yelling her accusations. It was somewhat surreal.

The swings multiple ways. Whichever issue is being discussed there will be people who disagree. Disagreement is not intolerance. There is a term for intolerantly accusing those who disagree with us as intolerant: Hypocrisy.

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