On Tolerance (It May Not Be What You Think)

I’m extremely worried about the growing power of hatred and intolerance in the United States right now. I imagine you’re worried too. Every day, the headlines seem to evince a swift march toward an increasingly frightening future for our country: the growing influence of neo-nazi ideology, deeply concerning supreme court decisions, children being torn from parents and whole families being imprisoned for seeking asylum or simply a better life… It’s almost too much to comprehend.

So I’ve been asking: How can I make sense of what’s going on? How did we get here in the first damn place? And how can I possibly be part of changing the trajectory we’re on to something better?

I’m trying to crack into these big questions simply at this point, by seeking clarity of terms. By clarifying the language I use – even if just with myself – I at least have some words to properly think with. A lot of the rhetoric out there right now is really heated and disorienting, chock-full of super-charged buzzwords. I want to cut through the malarkey and try to clear up at least one little word right now. That word is tolerance. Tolerance may not be what you think.

Here’s what I’d like to shout from the rooftops: Tolerance (much like civility) isn’t a personal virtue; it’s an interpersonal contract. As an interpersonal contract, tolerance cannot be practiced when you are alone; it requires the participation of another party. It takes two to tango.


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