A few weeks ago my daughter came home with a certificate from school. She had apparently got an award for being tolerant. Getting her to explain why she received this award was a bit of a trick. She didn’t even really know. My guess would be the school has some number of these “tolerance” awards they need to give out to be politically correct. As best as we can tell, we believe it was because my daughter, who is in 2nd grade, was placed at the same table with a girl in class who is a bit hyperactive. This other girl is very distracting. The teacher has said how impressive it is that my daughter can sit next to her and continue to work. My daughter has told us that the situation isn’t ideal. She shares space with another kid who she wishes wouldn’t act like that. It bothers her, but she puts up with it. I guess that seems “tolerant”, but something doesn’t seem quite right. It doesn’t seem like “tolerant” is quite the right word based on the way people are throwing it around these days. What do people really mean when they say I should be tolerant?
When tackling anything sensitive to people, I think it is important to define terms, so let’s start there. According to dictionary.com, the number one definition of “tolerant” is, “inclined or disposed to tolerate, showing tolerance. Fair enough, but what is tolerance? “Tolerance” is defined as, “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc,. differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry. Now here’s where it seems to get tricky.
In the unpacking of what tolerance is, consider the following definitions:
objective: not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased
permissive: habitually or characteristically accepting or tolerant of something, as social behavior or linguistic usage, that others might disapprove or forbid.
bigotry: stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.
Now that we have some definitions, there’s some interesting things to note. In order to be “tolerant” according to the definition of the word I must
- (objective) Have an attitude not based on my personal feelings.
- (objective) Have an attitude based on facts.
- (fair) Remain unbiased (ie objective).
- (permissive) Accept something (like a social behavior) that I disapprove of.
So the way I see it, if I take my personal feelings into account and don’t remain unbiased toward your creed, belief, or opinion then I’m intolerant. If I don’t accept your social behavior, even though I disapprove of it, I’m intolerant. I’m not even sure what I am if my personal feelings are based on facts. If I have personal feelings about a matter that influence my position because of that facts, does that make me intolerant, or do my facts cancel out my personal feelings? Further, because of the circular definition of the words bigotry (which is intolerance) and intolerance (which is not allowing you to be free from bigotry), you have clearance to call me a bigot if you’ve determined you can apply the label “intolerant” to me. It seems that, in the end, all you’ve done is made up some harsh sounding names to call me because I don’t agree with you.
At this point I’d like to grant you license. Please feel free to call me a “bigot” or “intolerant”, because I clearly am in many regards. What is that saying we used to say when were kids? I am rubber, you are glue…etc, etc? Please come back for part two where I’ll call you the intolerant bigot! I’ll also lobby to have my daughter’s “tolerance” award revoked, and then barf up a “tolerate” award for her!