Toleration: A Two-Edged Sword


This also originated as an expository writing assignment--isn't it great that I can justify blogging for class?

Toleration is a funny concept great idea. Supposedly it means the act of acknowledging the right of someone else to be different. But if you take this concept to its logical end, you’ll understand how ludicrous wonderful it really is. Let’s say Joe wants to play loud music right outside my room. If I’m a tolerant guy, then I should let him do that, right? And when Ulrikke decides she needs to practice her axe-throwing skills in living room, then I should try to be understanding of our innate differences. Then when she gets bored with my car and starts hurling axes at me, I should just duck tolerantly, right? Can you see how this might not be is such a wonderful concept.

“No, you’ve completely misrepresented toleration!” What’s that? I haven’t presented both sides fairly? Hey, it’s my post, right? But because I'm tolerant, we’ll look at the other side.

Proponents of toleration would say that the above scenarios aren’t fair, because they ignore the fact that Joe and Ulrikke should be tolerant too. Ideally, Joe would realize that I preferred not to have loud music played next to my room and demonstrate toleration by desisting. Ulrikke should be tolerant of my desire not to have to duck flying axes in my living room. Then, we’ll all be tolerant together and we’ll each be tolerant of every other and nobody will be hurt by another’s intolerance.

Is that the way it works? No, obviously our world does not function in this utopian state of idealistic toleration. You can probably call to mind hundreds of instances of intolerance—someone cutting in line ahead of you, living next to a loud roommate, getting a parking ticket, having to abide by a dress code, getting a poor grade on a paper, being shushed in church, being told to turn your music down, etc. Yep, our world is chock full of a lack of tolerance.

You still don’t like my examples? What’s wrong with them now? Why are you feeling uncomfortable?

I’ll tell you why—because these are all examples of people being intolerant to you. It’s a lot harder to think of times when you’ve been intolerant to others than to recall times when you’ve been wronged. And that’s the problem with great thing about the doctrine of toleration. If you’ve been wronged, you can cry ‘intolerance,’ and if someone complains about your actions, just tell them to look up the meaning of the word ‘tolerance.’ It’s diabolical perfect!


  1. The strike throughs amused me. Yes, tolerance is a very sharp double-edged sword. You know what's funny, when you look at the situations you're offended by, more often there is a time you've done it yourself. And not always to people, but most importantly to God.

    God usually reveals that to me when I'm being unforgiving, impatient, and intolerant.

  2. and I'm pretty sure the cat is tolerating the dog in that picture.

  3. yes, the cat is definitely tolerating the dog

  4. Tolerance in small, localized situations can teach us to be tolerant in the larger scope in the world. While tolerance is important, it is important not to confuse it with blind acceptance. Tolerance and compromise of absolute truths should never be confused as the same thing. Lately, I'm finding that tolerance is becoming very crucial to be in the world yet holding on to my beliefs avoids my becoming a part of the world.
    Nothing is ever as small as it may seem.
    - Joanna

  5. You have a valid point. Definitions are important. I think my point (poorly communicated though it was) is that increasingly, holding to certain beliefs is mistaken for intolerance--due perhaps, to society's imprecise definition of the word.

    I'm posting another blog along similar lines, albeit worded with a wee bit more care.

    BTW, how did a package show up for me at the desk, without postage on it?

  6. I was down there about 2 weeks ago visiting Jeena for her birthday.

    - Joanna

  7. and you didn't tell me?
    Jeena's here?

    I think you should email me with a more detailed explanation . . .


Sorry - I was getting too many spam comments so I turned on moderation. As long as you're not a bot or a troll, I'll approve your comment :)