Tolerance: “The ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with.”
I was having a conversation with a colleague the other day, whilst we were planning a series of workshops that our team are going to be running around the misuse of terminology concerning protected characteristics, and she commented that the word ‘tolerant’ makes her squirm. A lot.
This wasn’t something I’d given much thought to before, but she was exactly right: ‘Tolerate’ has a sub-text of ‘putting up with until it goes away’. And that’s really not what this term is meant to be about. We shouldn’t be ‘willing’ to allow others to have their own beliefs or opinions that might differ from our own. We should be, as my colleague rightly pointed out, actively accepting it. Embracing it. Understanding it.
So perhaps ‘tolerance’, despite its well-meaning intent, actually smacks of ‘making do’ with a situation. Perhaps there’s a bit of ‘I won’t interfere but as long as it doesn’t affect me’ wrapped up in the word. When, actually, perhaps what we need from society is a much more open-minded view, where we choose to understand and really embrace one another’s backgrounds, cultures, identities or lifestyle choices.
In the E&D team, we would like to run some workshops that will focus on these kinds of issues and hopefully help to break down some of the taboos and barriers around misunderstanding another person’s identity. Very often, ‘putting up’ with something is driven from a fear of it: Not knowing enough about it or only knowing what labels and stereotypes the media has left us with. Not wanting to interact because we perhaps don’t know how. In nurturing open and honest discussions about one another’s identities, we hope that we can move from tolerance to acceptance. With the grand goal of inclusion. Because that’s ultimately what a positive society is all about.