Tolerance, really? This post holds a bit of harsh language. . . You’ve been warned. 🙂
I’m a woman of Haitian decent. Actually, a first generation Haitian-American. In Creole the word tolerance is not ever spoken in nice tones. It’s usually delivered with disdain and harshness. Which is why it always baffles me when organizations and people here in America speak of “tolerance” as a thing to teach.
Tolerance, for me, is not what I think to teach my children when it comes to other people.
Thinking I might be misunderstanding the word I decided to look up tolerance in the Merriam-Webster dictionary online. I teach my son (and soon my daughter) to look up words, so that was my default. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just tainted by the connotation ‘tolerance’ held in Creole vs. English.
(please pin this image)
Imagine my shock when I read the first definition listed:
“capacity to endure pain or hardship”
I was right! My education did not fail me (in that regard) and when put in context in Creole, that’s exactly what it means. It’s a feeling of being able or unable to ENDURE pain or hardship presented . . .
“sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own”
Sympathy? Indulgence? Still not things that invoke hearts or rainbows . . . Let’s continue
“the act of allowing something.”
Wait, what? So basically “I will allow you to be black” or “I will allow you to be Jewish” or “I will allow you to be gay”? The final set of definitions is what threw me over the top…
“the capacity of the body to endure or become less responsive to a substance (such as a drug) or a physiological insult especially with repeated use or exposure developed a tolerance to painkillers; also : the immunological state marked by unresponsiveness to a specific antigen (2) : relative capacity of an organism to grow or thrive when subjected to an unfavorable environmental factor”
I am, they are, we are all human beings, no one wants to simply be “tolerated”! I don’t want you in my space looking at me as something to “endure”! If you find my mere presence offensive then get the fuck out of my space. Do not put us in a position where you’re “enduring” a “sustained” trauma and I’m thinking we’re communicating.
Still not fully convinced? Well, neither was I, although I was getting there quickly, so I looked up words that may be similar in meaning, you know synonyms:
forbearance, long-suffering, sufferance, patience
Then related words:
acquiescence, resignation; passiveness, passivity; amenability, compliance, conformism, docility, obedience, subordination, tractability, willingness; discipline, self-control; submission, submissiveness
Correct me if I’m wrong but there’s a pattern here. All these words imply that those who are “tolerant” are in a state of great discomfort and in a position to be easily misled.
Teaching people to “tolerate” other people needs to be the teaching of last resort, not the platform! Because, at the very least, we should be tolerant. Tolerance is not the first thing to teach. . . I do not want to simply be tolerated.
When forced to stay in a state of discomfort, say like chronic pain, people don’t learn what they need to grow, they simply learn to endure. That is tolerance. How can I, in good conscience, teach my children to endure other people? That will in turn teach them they are powerless and must endure the unfavorable situation when someone else is simply enduring their presence. I do not stay in the presence of those I think are merely enduring my presence.
It seems to me, this tolerance thing is blowing up in our faces right now. Alt-right, white supremacists are running rampant in our streets when for years many allowed themselves to think they were a thing of the past. What they were doing was “tolerating” us (blacks, Jews, gays, other). They’ve been uncomfortable for too long. In that discomfort they were made “submissive”, “passive” and are now fighting for a state of comfort.
Groups of people that have been taught to “tolerate” and others that have been “tolerated”, all living in a sustained state of discomfort are pushing back. No human wants or should stay in a state of sustained discomfort.
No, I’m not going to teach my children to tolerate people. Nor am I going to teach them to endure being tolerated. I’m teaching my children to be curious and open to other ways of life. I’m teaching them the richness of experiencing and indulging in theirs and other cultures, immersing themselves in the beauty that is diversity. I’m teaching them to love.
In turn, I’m not here to simply be tolerated.
Tolerance is the teaching of last resort.
Tolerance is the act of last resort.
So, if you haven’t talked to me, been open to me and learned anything about me because of the color of my skin, I DO expect you to tolerate me. Because I’m here, I’m not going anywhere and it’s your choice to stay in your ignorant state of stress.
What’s blowing up right now is a whole lot of tolerance gone awry. We take the teaching of last resort, make it the best option and now people are done tolerating. We’re not teaching sensitivity to culture, because we’re afraid to teach culture. We’re not teaching an understanding of people, because we’re afraid to teach history properly. Kids aren’t learning love, they’re learning to “get along” and to “tolerate”.
Teaching anyone to simply tolerate things that can never change will never end well.
The one antonym:
The near antonyms, those words that are close to the opposite of tolerance:
defiance; contrariness, disobedience insubordination, intractability, recalcitrance, resistance, willfulness
When tolerance is no longer sustainable you’ll get the opposite.
Teach history, culture, inclusion, sensitivity and love. Then, if by some horrible twist, those things don’t work, teach tolerance. But please, take it from someone who is of a “tolerated” class, don’t teach tolerance first. If tolerance is the only lesson that sticks, then impatience is not too far behind