Our culture has become enamored with the word “tolerance”. The word strikes me as minimal. It actually borders on the offensive. For example, if my neighbor told me that they were trying to tolerate me that wouldn’t be good news. The hidden message is “I don’t like you, but I’m going to try to refrain from doing you harm” or “I don’t want you here, but you are here, so I’ll just learn to live with it without sabotaging your house in some way”. What a bizarre word choice.
So how did our culture arrive at such a word? Without actually studying the origin of the use of the word, I’m going to guess that it emerged from some admission that many people, perhaps all of us in some sense, are unwilling to change our belief that my perspective is the right perspective. However, we may be willing to change our behaviors. It’s similar to a parent telling a child to “play nice” or “take turns”. The child’s attitude may not be altered, but they may share to avoid punishment. They might be a more sharing adult, or they may just fit into society a bit more effectively. The word “tolerate” is a behavioral mandate but not a heart change.
Granted, intolerant behavior needs to be quashed in all of its forms, but I hope that we can be about a greater goal than just tolerating one another. I am reminded of Martin Luther Jr.’s call to love the oppressor, or Jesus’ purposeful care for those who were culturally different. It would not be hard to list many religious revolutionaries that called for love. I doubt they would be satisfied with the word tolerance. “Tolerate your neighbor as you tolerate yourself” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?
A developing person, a person growing in that which brings life instead of death, is a person who looks into the face of someone different and says, “I don’t always understand you, but I want to know you”. You don’t have to really see someone to tolerate them, but you have to climb over your internal fences in order to love your neighbor. Don’t tolerate your neighbor. Walk across the street, sit down, learn, commune, enjoy, and be changed.