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To loathe the word 'tolerant'?

(20 Posts)
FaintlyMacabre Wed 15-Jul-09 21:09:46

I've been thinking this for ages but for some reason felt compelled to write about it this evening!

We often hear the word 'tolerant' to describe a happy, peaceful, multi-cultural society.

But, to me, the word tolerate means that the thing being tolerated is irritating, offensive or a nuisance. Bad smells, noise or mosquitos are to be tolerated.

So why is it seen as a 'good thing' to be tolerant of people of (for e.g.) a different race, religion or sexual orientation? They shouldn't need to be tolerated! It implies that the racist or homophobe has a point, but the nice middle-class liberal is being good enough to put up with somebody 'different' and therefore inferior.

Or am I just waaay overthinking this?

katiestar Wed 15-Jul-09 21:16:58

I think 'tolerance ' is mostly applied to religios diffrences.Obviously you think a diffrerent religion to your own is less valid than your own otherwise you would follow that religion

proverbial Thu 16-Jul-09 14:18:40

Ummm, yes and no. Thing is, people do make strong value judgements, we all do. Some people do think that homosexuality for example is on a par with "bad smells, mosquitos" etc, and "tolerate" it. You and I may think such an opinion offensive and unfair, but people are entitled to their opinions no matter how they disagree. As a very lefty tree hugger commie type, I have no choice but to tolerate things in society that others, often the large majority, think are normal and good and right. I think differently, but since a one woman revolution isnt going to work, tolerate I must

If it is just opinion, and they "tolerate" the things they don't like and their actions are inoffensive and non-interfering, then thats a good thing, no? Otherwise you are getting into the realm of telling people what to think, and thats a slippery slope.

RumourOfAHurricane Thu 16-Jul-09 14:21:12

Message withdrawn

Pyrocanthus Thu 16-Jul-09 14:26:45

No, you have a point. To say that we are a tolerant society implies that we have a lot to put up with.

piscesmoon Thu 16-Jul-09 14:30:16

I like it -tolerant to me means 'live and let live'.

proverbial Thu 16-Jul-09 14:37:29

But Pyro, don't you think some people do think they have a lot to put up with? There are people who don't like how society is, yet have to live in it anyway. Either you have a tolerant society, or an intolerant one, or one where everyone has to have the same thoughts opinions and lifestyles.
I'll stick with the tolerant society thanks!

Pyrocanthus Thu 16-Jul-09 14:46:32

I'm not arguing for an intolerant society, proverbial; if we don't tories, hippies or Seventh Day Adventists we need to tolerate them, but what FaintlyMacabre is getting at is the implication in the use of the word that what is being tolerated is inferior, and that 'we' is assumed to be white, straight, Christian, etc.

To tolerate, v. To endure, sustain (pain or hardship). (OED).

Perhaps it's a word whose sense is changing though, to encompass acceptance and appreciation, which is I think the way in which most people use it, to be fair.

Pyrocanthus Thu 16-Jul-09 14:47:13

If we don't like tories, I mean.

Pyrocanthus Thu 16-Jul-09 14:48:09

And 'we are.

Dear me, more haste, less speed.

Pyrocanthus Thu 16-Jul-09 14:48:34

And the second speech mark.

proverbial Thu 16-Jul-09 15:05:08

I suppose it is a matter of interpretation, and perhaps people use the same word in different ways.
I think what I am saying is that there is an entrenched societal moralism in place, which changes slowly, and that a significant number of people probably do feel that a tolerant society is just that, enduring, sustaining the hardships of new and, to them, negative changes in social mores and standards. I imagine it to be difficult if the values you were taught and believe in have changed in popularity and you find yourself on the wrong side of popular opinion, so to speak.

On the other hand, the use of the word tolerant to imply inclusiveness and true acceptance is just as valid, and more progressive.

I'm not sure I'm explaining my thoughts well, I'm vv tired! blush

PeachyTheRiverParrettHarlot Thu 16-Jul-09 15:08:43


I get the usage, I understand it but I like acceptance.Acceptance is passive at worst, tolerance indicates you are fiding something irritating and being good and putting up with it

I'd happily ditch religious tolerance if itwere i favour of accepting religious co-existence

MovingOutOfBlighty Thu 16-Jul-09 15:11:45

V interesting point. When you think about it, it does have a whiff of condescention about it.

piscesmoon Thu 16-Jul-09 15:41:03

I think tolerance means accepting that people are different and not trying to change them.

OrmIrian Thu 16-Jul-09 16:00:18

It isn't possible to like everything that everybody does. My father, due to his farily conservative nature and his generation may well find the idea of the practice of homosexuality fairly unpleasant for example, and nothing much I or anyone else says is going to change that. But his tolerant nature would ensure he never expresses those opinions in an offensive way. I think that is OK. Isn't it?

OrmIrian Thu 16-Jul-09 16:01:19

Acceptance is the same as tolerance IMO. It means that there are things you may not like but you live with them.

HerBeatitude Thu 16-Jul-09 16:10:12

Yes I think yabvu.

Basically you seem to be requiring that everyone is happy, inclusive, la di da.

And not everyone is. Tolerance is incredibly important and valuable as a concept, because it says that no matter how much someone may irritate you or you may disagree with them on basic issues of life, you are still tolerant of their opinion and existence, allow them to express themselves and don't conduct a pogrom against them just because you disagree with them.

It's easy to be nice to people you approve of and like. It's much more important to be able to be nice to people you slightly despise or dislike.

FaintlyMacabre Thu 16-Jul-09 17:42:28

Proverbial, you have a good point about tolerance now implying inclusiveness and true acceptance. This is probably what people mean when they use it, the problem is that I hear 'putting up with'. I think your terms are better!

Okay, maybe I won't loathe the term because, as has been pointed out, tolerance is a good deal better than putting a brick through someone's window. But I don't like its use as a 'pinnacle' of civilised society. Maybe we should be progressing beyond tolerance through to true acceptance and inclusiveness'. (But somehow managing to do that in a way that remains interesting and culturally diverse).

HerBeatitude Thu 16-Jul-09 19:04:36

I don't know, call me a cynic but I have a feeling that tolerance is as far as we can go.

As long as you have inclusiveness and diversity, then you are bound to have people in there whose ideas make you feel uncomfortable/ unhappy / enraged. So you will need tolerance to put up with them and welcome them. You will only not need tolerance, when everyone within your society more or less sings from the same hymn sheet - which will never happen and would be extremely wierd and freakish if it did!

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