On Tolerance

Back of Folding Chair by Owen

Back of Folding Chair by Owen



I love my kid’s school.


I love the fact that the school has been standing there since 1940 (as have the folding chairs that are still used in the gym).


I love sitting in that gym for an assembly, and even though my kid is only in kindergarten, knowing at least half the faces there.


I love that those faces are every shade possible. 


Today’s assembly was an African drumming concert.  An extremely talented artist, originally from Senegal, spent the week with the kids, teaching every kid from K-6 how to drum.  And he taught them about his country’s culture – the clothes, the food, and, for the older kids, a bit about politics.


As the principal introduced him, she talked about all the kids learned from him this week.  It was a warm and fuzzy speech, and I wasn’t paying much attention, until a word jarred me back to attention – “tolerance”.


I hate that word.  I involuntarily wince every time I hear it.  It feels dated, and trite, and wrong.


For me, it implies that us white folk are somehow going to find it within ourselves to put up with anyone who’s not like us.  And isn’t that just gracious of us?  It implies that there’s something not as “right” about the ways of others, but we’re going to find a way, in our big, generous hearts, to let them live out their “quaint” ways.


People who cut us off in traffic, who let their cell phones ring in a theatre, who mix up “your” and “you’re”?  We tolerate them.


People from another culture?  We just live with them.




(The drummer used the word, too.  Maybe I’m overreacting.  I don’t know.)


12 responses to “On Tolerance

  1. I know exactly what you mean, that word makes me itch.

    But I console myself with the idea that words change meaning over time, and maybe it is earning a more welcoming reputation.

    Patriotic is another one that irritates me.

  2. Try being not only white but a white Southerner from Tennessee…it’s just pretty much accepted that I’m intolerant. Oh, and stupid too. And possibly married to my first cousin.

  3. Yea, I don’t think you’re overreacting. (I almost wrote “your overreacting” as a joke, but then decided against it).

  4. I can only really tolerate people who use that word.

    Like in schools when you have like, CULTURE DAY! and everyone brings something from their “culture” which is inevitably Swedish meatballs, Spanish rice, spaghetti, some forms of cookies, bagels from the Jewish kid. The Irish-ish kid will bring like a potato salad or something that is not necessarily Irish and just has potatoes in it, and none of them want to try whatever the weird Indian kid brought.

    Because that’s how kids work. So we grow up just associating “cultures” with food. The only thing I knew about Spain that actually sank in until like, late high school was that they had rice there sometimes. So, wooo Spain!

  5. it’s overused, and has taken on that ‘benevolent’ tone… i cringe as well.

    i used to hate it when people would say “oh, it’s so nice that your husband helps you around the house”. ummm… no… we shared responsibility. he had a lower tolerance for dirty floors and did the vacuuming and i had lower tolerance for shit in the kitchen sink, so i did dishes. the word ‘help’ implied that despite the fact that we both were employed outside the nest, it was still up to me to manage the household.

  6. I haven’t heard that word used a ton in my world, but put as you put it, I can totally understand your distaste. I guess at some point people figured that at best we could just tolerate, as opposed to respect and accept.

    Me and mine, we’ll accept and respect. And we won’t tolerate any less.

  7. I hate that word … tolerate. Right there with you. Racists and bigots tolerate. I co-exist and try to embrace our differences as part of the beautiful tapestry that makes up humankind.

  8. Xbox: Yup, I have to think that the word will be phased out by the time my kids are making warm, fuzzy speeches.

    hereinfranklin: I don’t think of you that way. I promise.

    People in the Sun: I think you should have done it. I would have laughed.

    rassles: OMG, you just reminded me of something. My son had a truly excellent babysitter who ran a kickin’ day home, and she caught shit for not being more multi-cultural. When she asked the agency what they thought she ought to do, one of their suggestions was to “Maybe get some ninja costumes. You know, for, like, Japanese culture?”

    daisyfae: I had a friend whose husband used to refer to any time he spent alone with their son as “babysitting”. He’s not her husband, anymore.

    vinomom: I think you’ve hit on it: it’s kind of a “minimum” thing.

    mtnlover: Word, yo.

  9. I totally see your point. We merely tolerate them. Just like we tolerate the neighbors’ loud music because it’s only 6pm, but if it’s still on at 10, we’re calling the cops. Unfortunately the word is thrown around in religious circles because so many people would perfer to wipe out other religious faiths, so we have to say please tolerate because you can’t just accept and move on.

  10. faemom: Makes sense.

  11. i really had never given much thought to the word. But now that you mention it…

  12. lessequalsmore

    Totally agree. It’s also bantered around the special needs world far too much as well. In fact I hate the word “special needs” as well as much as I hate the word ‘disability’. I know people who have Asperger Syndrome, and I think the word ‘syndrome’ should be changed to ‘personality’. I think people would be less afraid and less negative if they knew they were engaging with a person with and Asperger personality, rather than with someone with a ‘syndrome’.

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