“Tolerance” Sucks: Why it’s only a half-measure to a bigger problem

I despise the word “tolerance.” It feels like nothing more than a half-measure aiming for political correctness without tackling a much bigger problem. Why are people taught (or forced) to “tolerate” a person or group of people, when it’s clear that they still dislike, hate, or despise them?

Screengrab from South Park's "The Death Camp of Tolerance"

Screengrab from South Park’s “The Death Camp of Tolerance”

In my first post of my new series, Parse Your Colloquialisms, I’d like to break down the word “tolerance,” which, to me, has never had a positive connotation. Additionally, it is implied that it is to be forced upon people in a fascist way, similar to South Park’s “The Death Camp of Tolerance” (Watch on: YouTube | Hulu).

Let’s take a look at the Dictionary.com definition of tolerance:


  1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.
  2. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions, beliefs, and practices that differ from one’s own.
  3. interest in and concern* for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.

*I think that #3 is outside of the scope of “tolerance,” as I believe “tolerance” is passive (i.e. “permissive attitude”), whereas showing “interest in and concern” is very much an active endeavor.

Now, let’s look up the definition of its root word:


verb (used with object), tolerated, tolerating.
  1. to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of without prohibition or hindrance; permit.
  2. to endure without repugnance; put up with.

So basically, we’re telling people to “put up with” other people’s differences–whether they be cultural, racial, etc.–even if you don’t like (or downright hate) them. I have a problem with this. While we’re teaching people to be “tolerant”,  we’re not encouraging them to put aside their preconceived supremacist notions. What happens when you force people to “tolerate” something or someone that they hate? Usually deep resentment (see: #WhiteFragility), which can–in extreme cases–lead to something tragic.

Instead, why not teach and encourage people to have open minds so that they can try to appreciate and understand the inherent differences in different cultures, races, religions, and ethnicities?

I’m not saying that all cultures and religions should get a free pass from judgement. But if you’re going to dislike or hate them, at least have a good, rational reason; not an irrational hatred fueled by stereotypes and other people’s opinions. Think for yourself. And most importantly, judge people individually by the content of their character, and not by:

  • The color of their skin
  • The geographic location of their mother’s vagina at birth
  • Anything else outside of their control

As the old cliche goes: “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.”

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