I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “tolerance” lately. It seems to me that the definition I learned in grade school for this word and today’s working definition are very different.
According to the dictionaries of my youth (and earlier), tolerance means the willingness to accept people whose race, religion, opinions or habits are different from one’s own; the ability to put up with or to endure. It basically meant that I was taught to respect people in spite of their differences, understanding that every individual has value–even if they have a different color of skin or if I think they’re a couple bricks short of a full load in their particular views.
Now it seems that tolerance means to accept a person and their views–and to go out of my way to cater to them. Tolerance has come to mean an unconditional acceptance in some circles.
How did that happen?
Wait. Don’t answer that.
We the people are a vastly varied assortment of crazy. We all have our own ideas, ways of doing things, beliefs, passions and preferences. This is called free choice. We were created that way, and if God doesn’t hold this gift of free choice against us, why should we hold it against one another? We are all bound to disagree on something, and we are all bound to have common ground on something else. That’s the nature of humanity. Unfortunately, we spend so much time waging war about our differences that we fail to thank God for our common ground.
Over the years, I’ve noticed something interesting about the American family. This probably doesn’t happen in every family, but I think it happens in most. A difference of opinion occurs somewhere within the family. Feelings get hurt and a relationship suffers. A line is drawn in the sand, grudges are held and walls go up. Family members also join in by choosing sides. Everybody is affected. Then, someone in the family dies, and everyone comes together for the celebration of a life lived. Hugs are swapped, tears are shed, grace is extended. Common ground is remembered.
Sometimes there is long-term healing in these situations, but often the differences begin to once again outweigh the similarities. Relationships are once again battle grounds. People forget that tolerance is equal to respect. We don’t have to agree on everything with another individual in order to value something about that individual.
I hate cilantro. It tastes like soap to me. The first time I tasted cilantro in salsa at a restaurant, I told the server that I thought someone had spilled dish detergent in it before serving. It was that bad. To this day, I cannot eat fresh cilantro without feeling like I should be able to blow bubbles afterward. I have friends and family who love cilantro. What tastes like soap to me tastes like summery freshness to them. Do I agree with their assessment of this horrible herb? No! Can I respect them as people? Yes! (Usually.) Do I want to share a bowl of cilantro salsa with them? Not really. But, if it’s important to the health of our relationship, I will tolerate the salsa in order to honor the friend. If I just cannot bring myself to do that, for whatever reason, then I will suggest that we go out for Italian.
When I put the person above the disagreement, I can always find common ground. There is value in every person; I don’t care what they believe.
As I raise children, I’m sticking with the old definition of tolerance. Yes, I’ll tell them how some folks are interested in changing the word’s meaning, but I’ll explain to them that we all have free choice. We don’t have to look like one another or agree with one another to work with one another and value one another.
Challenge: Whether it’s on Facebook, at the store, at work or in your own home today, search for common ground. Be a respecter of people instead of a keeper of differences.