Living in This World


A lesbian friend used to say, "I would rather be hated than tolerated."

She got me thinking about the word tolerate in a way I had not before. In the comments on my last post, Teri wrote:

Elias Chacour (palestinian-israeli
archbishop of galilee) said something I'll never forget during a speech
he made in Cairo in 2006: "tolerate is what you do until you can get
rid of someone–it's very different from accepting."

And chartreuse ova added:

I turned to hubby and said, "Tolerate is what you do when there's a fly in the house and you don't have a flyswatter handy."

Like my childhood writing idol, Laura Ingalls Wilder, I felt the need to turn to the dictionary, in this case Merriam-Webster online, to seek the etymology of the word "tolerate":

Latin toleratus, past participle of tolerare to endure, put up with; akin to Old English tholian to bear, Latin tollere to lift up, latus carried (suppletive past participle of ferre), Greek tlēnai to bear

To bear, to endure, to carry, none of these suggests full participation, does it?

As a Christian, I get a clear message from the one I follow, Jesus, to include everyone, to welcome everyone. In the United Church of Christ we speak of radical welcome, of radical inclusivity. Laws related to so-called purity did not influence his interaction with the people he met. Love your neighbor as yourself, he said. Imagine the Great Commandment if he asked us only to tolerate others?

One of the
scribes, when he came forward and heard them
disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, "Which is
first of a1l the commandments?" Jesus replied, "The first is this:
'Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall tolerate the Lord
your God
with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with
all your
strength.' The second is this: 'You shall tolerate your neighbor as
There is no other commandment greater than these."

It's impudent and insulting, to say you "tolerate" people who are different than you are. It's code for "Well, I wouldn't say we need to round them up and kill them." The disdain implied reads clearly to the rest of us.

Enough is enough.

20 thoughts on “Tolerance”

  1. Thanks for putting words to this; I couldn’t find the right ones.
    And–though this clearly wasn’t the point of your post–YEAH for Laura Ingalls Wilder, one of my favorite people ever!

  2. This was insightful and helped to clarify why that word feels so condescending.

  3. I’m thinking there’s a sermon in there ’cause I certainly have witnessed some tolerating that should have been loving … wonder if I can fit that in a World Communion sermon?

  4. Whew.
    I’ve just been catching up with about two weeks of your posts.
    There’s a lot to be angry about, eh?
    Thinking of you.

  5. It’s condescending, IMHO, partly because it says “We set the standards — or we ARE the standard — and we will allow you to deviate from our level of perfection, but not by too much.”
    Tolerance is a very useful idea in manufacturing; we can decide that the diameter of a part should be 1.000 inch plus or minus 0.005, and send out-of-spec parts back to the machine shop for rework.
    It is less useful in human terms. In manufacturing, the machine designer sets the specifications; the crankshafts don’t get to decide what the dimensions of a crankshaft should be.

  6. I cringe when I hear the word “tolerate” or “tolerant” – to tolerate someone is to allow them to exist next to you, but in such a way that no one is affected by the other. Tolerate is not about mutuality, relationship, and all that entails – including the reality that when we are really in relationship with others we DO affect each other – we change one another, for the better, in love.

  7. Well said. At various times I have tried to make people understand why I thought tolerance wasn’t such a great victory.
    I often found it hard to express.

  8. Hey Songbird, Love this post of yours. A while back The Christian Century had an article by an author I currently don’t remember. However, I clearly remember the quote, “If I’m being tolerant of something or someone that means I’m being intolerant of something or someone else.”
    Be open to the stranger–love your neighbor–be hospitable. Good words that I try to live by besides it’s the way of the UCC.

Comments are closed.