I’ve been thinking about this topic for probably six years, maybe longer.
Today, I tell you why “Tolerance” is pile of garbage.
I ask you to hang in there with me, because I’m perfectly aware that practicing “tolerance” is an important concept for us and for modern, American society. We pay consultants handsomely to conduct whole three-day workshops on tolerance; we talk endlessly at dinner and in social media about tolerating other viewpoints, other groups of people, other religions, and other political viewpoints. Our first indication that Tolerance is rubbish is that it helps maintain the illusion of “other.”
The very idea of “us” and “them” is erroneous. For some reason, humans seem like the only ones on this planet who refuse to understand we’re one species. Rabbits seem to understand they’re all rabbits. Aardvarks? Same thing. Ants seem to understand that they’re all ants. They’re all “us.” They stay together, stay dry, everyone eats. Humans? At least in the US, we think the people we live in the same house with are the only ones in our group, the only ones who are “us.” And then, sometimes, not even those people. I have personally made the people I live with “them” in times of pain, fear, and selfishness. Believe me, it’s no fun, not for anyone. But this deeply-held, false binary “us and them” idea allows us to continue our “other” illusion. There is no “other.”
Are you thinking, “Well, at least isn’t not outright hate”? You’re right, it isn’t. Tolerance may be considered several steps up from disdain. It may be considered a couple steps up from hate. It may be considered at least a step up from intolerance. All these are generally considered improvements; however, the critical point I keep circling back to as I ruminate on this is: Tolerance is still a long, long, long way from Love.
Hatred is honest. It, like all our other emotions, may not be due to the object of said emotion, but it’s honest and true. Tolerance, on the other hand, is a way for us humans to do one of our favorite tricks: not choose. I know, because I have been, and am, the Splendid Emperor of Not Choosing in far too many circumstances. Ask my friends and my family. But you see, if I tolerate you, I don’t have to invest! What a relief, I’m off the hook! I don’t have to love, fear, or hate you. I don’t even have to know you. I don’t have to put any energy into getting to know you. I just tolerate you. So, Tolerance allows us to maintain the status quo. I could really get on board with a much more inspiring status quo. Couldn’t you?
I’ve heard many times, “Sometimes you have to tolerate people before you can love them.” This is completely untrue and, I believe, actually a deterrent from arriving at Love. Tolerance is not a gateway to Love. Tolerance itself actually creates some problems for arriving at Love. If I’m Tolerant, I’ve already put you in a bucket of stuff I don’t have to deal with; where’s my motivation to love you? Tolerance allows us to categorize and to continue to avoid.
Most importantly, the practice of Tolerance allows us to feel superior. Superiority the set point for this thing we’ve declared a virtue. If I’m Tolerant, I’m automatically superior. I tolerate a less-important person, a less-enlightened viewpoint, a less-worthy idea. See how I’m tolerant of others? See how I’m bravely tolerant, even of the utterly intolerant? Yay for me! I’m awesome and merciful. Tolerance allows me to stay distant and to approve of myself. And, damn, don’t I love that?
So sorry, but us v. them, better-than-hate, avoidance, superiority, and self-approval do not lead us down a path to Love. When we tolerate, we’ve decided to tolerate this whole group of people and their beliefs because we’re obviously better, smarter, more properly educated, more empathetic, more generous, more loving, and more evolved as humans. We’ve studied more. We know more. We can simply discount personal experiences of the tolerated. Clearly we don’t have our heads up our asses like those ridiculous, hateful, closed-minded, infuriating Union Members/Homeschoolers/ Conservatives/Liberals/ Vegetarians/Muslims/Yankees Fans/ Christians/Yoga Practitioners/Radio Talk Show Hosts/Feminists.
Who doesn’t like being right?! I know I sure as hell do. It’s just one of many of those crappy, human-brain things I battle all the time. All the time. But I’m not always right. I’m lucky if I’m right half the time. “Right” isn’t even a sensible goal most of the time. “Right” is another human-brain thing that keeps us locked safely in an Us v.Them mindset. You see, if I’m right, they’re wrong. And that makes me better.
And I’m most certainly not better. But I am wonderful, just like “they” are, and just like YOU are. If I’m content to tolerate, I’m comfortable in my own right-ness. Why would I go for the risky, messy, hellacious, infinitely complicated Love, which requires discomfort, uncertainty, and constant cognitive dissonance?
I’ll tell you why we go beyond Tolerance and go for Love. Love is the thing that heals, lifts, and unifies. Love contains mercy, grace, and generosity. Love fills up the cracks in our souls and in our lives. Love is life-giving. Love is the light that shines into a world that can be so full of Tolerance – and intolerance – that it makes us regularly sick: nervous, fearful, nauseated, and lonely. Tolerance is flat, gray, and tasteless in comparison to Love. Love is like passion fruit nectar poured over clear ice in a crystal glass. Tolerance is a nearly-dried-up puddle on hot, crumbly asphalt.
Love is the thing that, when applied wildly, outrageously, consistently, and generously actually repairs things.
Love gives families who disagree about EVERYTHING else a chance to be a safe, soft place for every member. Love is the thing that lets adult children find the parents they’ve always needed. Love gives people the grandchildren they’ve always wanted. Love is the thing that keeps forgiving him when your child has done something so morally wrong that he’s in jail. Love maintains relationships with self-destructive addicts. Love provides comfort when the answer just couldn’t suck any worse than it does. And, damn it, sometimes it just does.
Tolerance just keeps us as we are. It keeps people enslaved physically and spiritually. It keeps women hidden, abused, and oppressed in SO many countries. It keeps gays and lesbians without equal rights in the United States. It allows us to maintain an inaccurate view of Truth. It has kept me fat. It has kept me at a desk in Corporate America long after I knew it was not the place for me.
Humans! We are called out of the dark and into the light. We’re called out of Tolerance and into Love.
Goodbye, Tolerance. You’ll be missed on the days when I want my life to be neat and tidy. But I’ll run faster without you.
No one ever wanted to hear, “I tolerate you.”
Everyone wants to hear, “I love you.”
I love you.