I have a confession to make: I cringe each time I hear someone say they practice tolerance. Being a full supporter of equal rights for LGBTQ+ people, wouldn’t I be happy to hear people “practice tolerance”? Why would I have that inner reaction?

I might “tolerate” bad weather, someone cursing, loud music in a peaceful park, or rude drivers. Each of these has negative impact which might require tolerance. Someone being a part of the LGBTQ+ community does not have a negative impact on me, and thus there is nothing for me to “tolerate”.

Am I merely not understanding the meaning of the word? I checked with Merriam-Webster (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tolerance).

  • First definition: “capacity to endure pain or hardship: ENDURANCE, FORTITUDE, STAMINA” (capitalization theirs). When I work with someone who identifies as LGBTQ+, I’m certainly not thinking about how I have to “endure” them! Having people who are different is a benefit, not a hardship.

  • Second definition, part a: “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own”. In no way do I feel like I am “indulging” LGBTQ+ people because their “practices differ from or conflict with” mine. We are all different; I no more have to “indulge” someone for being in that group than someone who has different colored eyes or hair than I do, or whom prefers a different flavor of ice cream. There is no need for sympathy or to “indulge” them for being different than me. To the contrary I am happy to embrace diversity.

  • Second definition, part b: “the act of allowing something: TOLERATION”. I most certainly don’t “allow” someone to be lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, etc. any more than they “allow” me to be straight. They simply are who they are and I am who I am. Nothing to tolerate either way.

  • Third definition, “the allowable deviation from a standard”. “Standard” according to whom? It is not “standard” to fit all common “categories” — and if someone was normal in all ways that in itself would be non-standard.

None of the definitions of “tolerance” seem to fit the idea of acceptance, and yet it is often used.The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) talks about tolerance in multiple mission statement examples. https://www.aclu.org/other/gsa-mission-statement-examples

November 16th is the International Day For Tolerance. https://www.un.org/en/events/toleranceday/index.shtml

There’s a website on Teaching Tolerance. https://www.tolerance.org

The U.N. has “Declaration of Principles on Tolerance”, which is interesting to read and may be key as to why tolerance has been used with LGBTQ+ people. There they have their own definition of tolerance!

Regardless of how the U.N. defines tolerance, most dictionaries seem to agree with Merriam-Webster and the word certainly carries the connotation of tolerating something that is bad or annoying.

Wouldn’t it be better to use the word inclusive? Again back to Merriam-Webster: “including everyone especially: allowing and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability)”. (Italics theirs) https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inclusive

Tolerance or inclusive, what do you think?

Anne & Michael Glasser make a great writing team. Anne likes to write and Michael is a fantastic editor! Bilby, Michael’s pocket bear, is the Editor in Chief! They have two magnificent teens who are constantly teaching them how to make this world a better place, and they are listening.