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When Tolerance Isn’t Enough

I absolutely abhor the concept of tolerance.

When you tolerate something, you put up with it despite how inconvenient it may be. I go to school in New Hampshire, so I tolerate the cold; I have a roommate, so I tolerate having little privacy; most of the classes I need to take are early, so I tolerate having to wake up before I want to. See what I’m saying here? When we talk about tolerating differences, we’re basically insinuating that diversity is such a burden that we can barely stand it, and that’s not something I feel represents me or any of the people I chose to associate with.

We should be celebrating diversity instead of looking at it as something to get past. Think about what your life would be like if you’d never been exposed to anyone different from you.  I know I’d have an insufferable ego, not to mention a wicked superiority complex. Through listening to people who have had alternate experiences, I’ve learned so much about the world around me and how I can help the people in it. For example, I consider myself fairly well versed in the civil rights movement (as well versed as a privileged white person can be), but that’s only because I’ve listened and conversed with people of color about it. I had no idea anything was really wrong until I heard it from another perspective, and now a lot of the activism I participate in is dedicated to racial justice. Everything I know is because I took the time to go past tolerating and into celebrating our varying lives and viewpoints.

Being more than tolerant can be intimidating. It’s so easy to get defensive and think, “Well, I’d never do anything racist/sexist/homophobic/intolerant, so I don’t need to do anything else!” That’s a very privileged, very dangerous way of thinking, because it equates doing the bare minimum (not being a jerk) with doing marginalized people favors. Besides, there’s always more to learn–you may not think you’re doing anything wrong, but someone with a different point of view might disagree. Instead of just tolerating the discrepancies, why aren’t we thankful that the world has so many interesting people and places?

Tolerance has gotten us nowhere. We live in age where it is acceptable for politicians to spew hate and the podium and draw crowds of thousands. They were no doubt raised on “tolerance” like the rest of us, which is a testament to how ineffective it is. Don’t just tolerate the diversity in your life–step up to the plate and celebrate it.

 

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