The Problem With Tolerance

I have a bone to pick with the idea of “tolerance.” Almost every time an argument over rights for minority people comes up, the word “tolerance” is thrown around as if it’s some sort of ideal to be reached for. If we practice tolerance, if we live and let live, the world will be a better place … right? After all, isn’t that what equality is all about? We should just treat everybody the same and let people be whoever they want. As long as they don’t want to shove their beliefs down our throats, everything’s cool. Tolerance.

This sentiment is a cultural norm in much of the world, and I find that troubling. The problem is that the idea of tolerance, like all ideas that marginalize people, is deceptive. What tolerance looks like is “To each his/her own. Stay out of everyone’s business, live and let live. Coexist in harmony.” What tolerance actually means is “I don’t have to like you, who you are, or what you do. I just have to put up with you.” When you tolerate somebody, you act like they don’t bother you. You treat them with uncomfortable indifference in order to appear politically correct, while deep down you think you have some right to an opinion on who they are. A by-product of this is something we see all too often, when people who have grown weary of merely tolerating those they dislike for irrational reasons, lash out and attack. Tolerance does not uphold any kind of positive value, rather it seeks to promote a deceptive paradigm of false acceptance.

This paradigm of false acceptance acts as a cultural ‘smokescreen.’ So long as the masses believe it, a person or organization may preach tolerance while simultaneously undermining the entire idea by actively discriminating against minorities. The governments of both Canada and the United States are very good at this.

In Canada, laws and codes are put in place to promote and enforce equal rights and freedoms … while the Canadian government has been engaged in a systematic attempted genocide against Aboriginal peoples since before confederation. Ideals of acceptance and protection for the LGBTQ community are promoted when convenient, and although these rights have come a long way, violent crimes motivated by sexual orientation have been on a steady incline since at least 2009. These numbers cannot be placed solely upon a governing body, granted, but the rise in violent crime against a particular minority at a time when overall violent crime is declining, is indicative of a problematic societal discourse that the governing body has a major influence on. At the very least, they are complicit, while they implement laws and then turn a blind eye to their enforcement. The ‘smokescreen’ is so subtle that most people just don’t recognize it. The idea of tolerance has been sold to us with such great effect that we readily embrace it, effectively blinding ourselves to a sinister intent beneath its surface.

In the United States, some religious organizations with considerable political influence preach tolerance … while putting money and resources into campaigns to abuse, imprison, and lynch LGBTQ people in Uganda. The U.S. Constitution insists upon a separation of Church and State, yet still more Christian organizations that openly discriminate against LGBTQ people, all the while preaching about love, tolerance, and charity, are allowed to operate with tax exemption. Dishonest charlatans like Rush Limbaugh, Jason Lisle, Bryan Fischer, and the like go on and on about Christian love while marginalizing vast numbers of people as “sinful abominations.” Particularly poignant in the United States is that most studies show that the majority of the public buys into the paradigm of false acceptance, allowing it to grow more powerful and deceptive with the continuing passage of time.

This ‘smokescreen’ of tolerance is seen in a multitude of other ways, and it’s a societal cancer that we must wake up to. The goal to be aspired to is not tolerance, but Acceptance. Acceptance requires understanding and the abolition of bias. In order to truly accept one another, we must discard ideas of difference. There is no such thing as race, no such thing as entitlement, women and men are not so drastically different as if from separate planets. Until we throw away our socially constructed boxes, tolerance is all we can hope for … and tolerance hurts us. We must learn to communicate, talk to one another, listen to one another, exercise empathy, feel compassion, and think. As long as we uphold tolerance as our standard, institutional discrimination will continue. As long as people continue to buy into the ‘smokescreen,’ minority communities will never truly be safe. Acceptance, however, will change this. As long as we hold Acceptance as our standard, institutional discrimination will be no more. When we discard the idea of difference, and therefore the idea of worth dependent upon skin tone, cultural heritage, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity, the cultural conversation will change dramatically. Acceptance is dependent upon understanding. Understanding is dependent upon open minded and empathic discussion. Let us not waste any more time on tolerance. Let us concern ourselves with progress and the inclusion of all people. We must make Acceptance our standard.


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