Just recently I received a magazine in my school mailbox with the headline titled, “Teaching Tolerance in the Classroom.” Instantly the article’s words began to rub me the wrong way. We exist in a world that lives, eats, and breaths tolerance, but what does it really mean to be tolerant?
According to Merriam-Webster.com, tolerance has three definitions:
- willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own
- ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant
- (medical): your body’s ability to become adjusted to something (such as a drug) so that its effects are experienced less strongly
In today’s society, the first definition is the one that we most apply when we speak of a tolerant community. However, according to Michael Ramsden, most people view tolerance as a positive thing, but actually interpret the term in a negative way.
For example, imagine if you took a guest speaker out to one of the best restaurants in town. The very next day you overheard the guest speaking to your friend about the meeting. The conversation went something like this.
“Did you enjoy the evening last night?”
“Yes, they were tolerable.”
“Oh really. Well then, how was the food?”
“I could tolerate it.”
Is tolerance the way we really want to live, or is the definition of respect what we mean instead?
We coexist in a diverse universe where we are expected to get along and “tolerate” one another’s behaviors, habits, feelings, or beliefs regardless of our own opinion. Yet based upon the definition for tolerance, we are setting ourselves up to live in a society where the ability to generate a free discussion can no longer survive.
You may be thinking, how is that even possible? Let’s take a look. If we are being asked to be tolerant, it can be assumed that we disagree with the opinion presented otherwise we wouldn’t be being asked to be tolerant in the first place.
According to the societal definition, tolerance states that we are to willingly accept the behaviors and emotions of others. Regardless of our own opinion, we must automatically accept what is being stated. So if we already accept the opposing opinion then what is there to discuss?
Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost. He did not come to make peace. Yet, he did love and pray for those who persecuted him. Why are we wasting all of our time and energy trying to accomplish the impossible? Instead, if we follow by His example, then the rest will fit into place.
“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven;” (Matthew 5:44-45)
What have your experiences of intolerance or tolerance been? How have you seen our society forcing people into an opinion and out of a respectful discussion?