Friday, December 2, 2016
I am always fascinated when the primary connotations of words are missed by tens of millions of people. Tolerance is one such word. As multiculturalism rises in this country, tolerance is celebrated by progressive thinkers as an ideal state of how one human being should regard another. “I attend a church that preaches tolerance,” says one, and “I voted for the candidate who displays tolerance toward others,” says another.
When we tolerate something, we permit its existence, we allow it to live, but we do so begrudgingly, with a sneer. You tolerate your uncle’s alcoholism. You tolerate your dog’s farting. You tolerate your spouse’s gnarly mole. You endure them under the yoke of some perceived moral obligation, but deep inside you loathe them. You revile them. Well, maybe the mole is cute if it is at least hairless, or if not completely hairless, maybe something just shy of it resembling a sea anemone.
Some of these tolerances are so in name only, and are perhaps more accurately described as resentments. You only refer to your willingness not to crush the host of the offending attribute like a bug as tolerance rather than as resentment because it makes you feel a little better about how you feel.
Something tolerated is something disdained. The occasional dead mouse plopped from cat’s jaws onto an oriental rug, the neighbor’s frequently noisy children, the boss’s incessant need for status updates. Why then has tolerance emerged within political discourse at least as the best word to describe the dissolution of all prejudice within a person or an institution?
When we display tolerance toward another religion, we make a promise not to blow up its mosques, churches or synagogues, but we still may disdain them profoundly under the umbrella of tolerance. Mutual tolerance across all of society would seem to promote a seething resentment amongst all peoples, but with a pledge not to slash anyone’s tires.
Acceptance is a far better word. The difference between acceptance and tolerance is the difference between involvement and commitment, which is in turn the difference between the pig’s and the chicken’s relationship to your ham and egg breakfast. It is in part a semantic debate, but only in terms of usage, not word choice. Acceptance is a bit further up the ladder as far as one's regard for another human being, but still, you can accept people you hate. Ideally, let's not hate one another.
That might invoke another word, celebration, but that I think celebration in this context a bit conspicuous. It is contrived political correctness at that point I think, so I'll stick with acceptance over the course of my campaign to eradicate tolerance. Down with tolerance! In closing, if there is one thing I will no longer tolerate, it is misuse of the word ‘tolerance’.