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Bringing "Tolerance" Back

A few years ago, "tolerance" fell out of favor. It was during excitement about marriage equality and the feeling that we were on a progressive, inclusive arc. Who wants to be tolerated? we said. We want to be welcomed, cherished, honored.

Sure, if the alternative to "tolerance" is "welcomed, affirmed," I'll take the latter, please. But what about when the alternative is intolerance? Or worse?

It is a a bit odd that in the corners where I hear the most resistance to binary thinking, I also often hear the most resistance to allowing a common ground with those whom we have disagreement with.

I am not talking about tolerating intolerance. True tolerance must be a shared ground. An agreement that we can be in the same space together, while holding different beliefs.

And that ground, along with being shared, must be agreed upon. I am in an interfaith group. I know that we differ on many things, but we are in agreement that treating each other with love holds the top priority.

But that, frankly, is still too nice of a picture of tolerance. Because with my interfaith group, love is involved. I am all for love, but I want to narrow this down, to the idea of tolerance as an alternative to hateful intolerance, not as its equal counterbalance.

So let's start right there, with what it's not.

Tolerance is not the counterbalance to intolerance. It's the mushy middle between intolerance and acceptance.


Tolerance is NOT:
* a safe space
* a place where you're comfortable being vulnerable
* a place of love (not necessarily, anyway)

If you tolerate me, we can still work together. We can repair homes together, dish out food at a soup kitchen together. But I may not be inviting you to dinner on Friday night, you know? 

Now, depending on the area in which the other person is merely tolerant of me or my beliefs ... actually, I may indeed invite them to dinner. Because I may see so much other good in them, and it has been my experience that helping someone move from tolerance to acceptance lies in more contact, more time together. 

(I do still believe in love, y'all. And I still see it making transformations happen all the time.)

The side of intolerance is growing, and getting louder and bolder. 

Along with love and acceptance, we still need room for tolerance. 


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