Our politically correct culture preaches tolerance as accepting everyone or having a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, religion, race, nationality, or sexual preferences differ from one’s own. The current media message seems to be tolerate everyone … unless they happen to disagree with you or point out your personal problems. Then tolerance is used as a defensive weapon to say “you have to accept my different lifestyle and don’t dare tell me that I should change. If anyone should change, it’s you.”
But real tolerance is a little different.
Tolerance is an acceptance of others as unique expressions of specific character qualities in varying degrees of maturity. A general dictionary definition is the allowable departure from a specification or standard that is considered non-harmful to the functioning of a part, process, or product. It’s the degree of variability that an individual is willing to withstand.
Tolerance acknowledges we are all on a journey toward character development and maturity … and realizes that not everyone is at the same stage. Tolerance also acknowledges there is an optimal standard of behavior that promotes the function of society and offers encouragement instead of excuses for those who are missing the mark.
Take basic manners for an example. Simple courtesies like saying please and thank you. Chewing with your mouth closed and waiting to speak until after swallowing. Taking turns. Young people giving up their seats for the older generation. Responding to invitations. Making eye contact during conversations. One of my jobs as a parent is to model, teach, encourage, and correct my kids toward this standard of behavior. But not everyone has grasped (or mastered) the concept, and some–like those with autism–have real difficulties acquiring social skills.
But failing to measure up does not mean the standard ceases to exist. Tolerance simply means that I give grace to those still working to achieve it.
What about you? Are there things you cannot tolerate? Why? Where are you still growing?