Despite popular belief, the world does not need more tolerance; it needs less. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, we would be better off without it altogether. I know that I don’t want to be merely tolerated by somebody. It carries with it the intimation that, at any point, I might no longer be tolerated and probably for the same reason that, right now, I am.
Before I continue, let me say I realize that “tolerance” is a complicated word. Its main definition in the Oxford English Dictionary is: “The action or practice of tolerating; toleration; the disposition to be patient with or indulgent to the opinions or practices of others; freedom from bigotry or undue severity in judging the conduct of others; forbearance; catholicity of spirit.”
That doesn’t sound so bad. In fact, it sounds pretty noble. But at the heart of tolerance, tainting its rosy definition, is a gap through which a chilly wind blows. We can see it in the etymology of the word “tolerate,” which according to the OED comes from the “Latin tolerāre to bear, endure.” That connotation, of putting up with something you don’t like or you think is wrong, is the problem with “tolerance” because it is tolerance’s engine. Without antipathy, tolerance cannot arise.
There is enough in my life that drives me crazy for me to understand that you can’t like everything, and I see enough insanity (and inanity) that I deem flat-out wrong, that I know a life without judging others seems nigh impossible. Dislikes arise and based on the culture I’ve grown up in (both in time and place), my education, and my personal predilections, I have a sense of what I believe is right and wrong.
My beef with tolerance, then, isn’t that we experience these feelings or hold these values. It’s that tolerance depends on their having substance, which they don’t. They’re merely conceptions, ideas we have about how the world works, labels we put on experience in an attempt to understand it. Rather than tolerate something we have problems with, we need to see that those problems don’t really exist except in our minds, phantoms overlaying reality, too often driving us, at times unintentionally, to violence. And once you know in your heart’s core that is what’s happening, it becomes hard to act from it, and you’ll understand why tolerance is impossible.