Can’t We All Just Get Along? Tolerance. It seems like such a simple word, yet can have so many different meanings. The Webster’s Dictionary states the following definition of the word “Tolerance”: 1.
capacity to endure pain or hardship: 2. sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own: 3. the allowable deviation from a standard: 4. the capacity of the body to endure or become less responsive to a substance. Each of these definitions could be broken down into a number of subcategories or an individual’s connotation of the word. Tolerance in and of itself is a feeling or action that cannot be defined with one specific situation, each person defines what that means to them, depending on the circumstance.
The most common perception of tolerance is to be accepting of all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, income, or dress style. If a person is tolerant, that does not necessarily mean that they assent to these differences, rather, they keep their opinion to themselves, while not outwardly expressing their personal viewpoint. America has slowly evolved through many different levels of human tolerance over the centuries. The act of human tolerance in America dates back to the Indians. There were many different tribes who spoke different languages, had different ideas of religion or spirits as well as different cultural beliefs.
Once the English showed up, that required a new type of tolerance for a race of people that they had never seen before, with completely different beliefs and rituals. As we continue through the ages in America, the boundaries of tolerance have continuously been tested. More races and nationalities continued to converge on America. Every decade and every century introduced new ideas that were controversial and different. Starting in the 1960’s, the idea of being “tolerant” would be pushed to new limits that no one could have imagined, and has continued to this day. While America has certainly come a long ways from where we started of being tolerant, we still have so far to go.
It is also interesting to note that based on the geographical area that you may be in, the feeling of tolerance may be more or less. In California or New York, you may notice that there is such a diverse mix of people that nobody seems to be bothered by anything. In other places like the Deep South, you may notice that there is still quite a strong racial divide.Another form of tolerance is how much or how little pain or hardship a person can endure. The first idea that comes to mind is domestic violence.
A person in a physically or emotionally violent relationship seems to be able to tolerate a tremendous amount of pain. Although in this case, it may not be that they tolerate the behavior rather they are resolved to the fact that they feel helpless. Resolve is just another form of tolerance. A person could also have a very high or very low threshold or tolerance to pain, which may have nothing to do with physical harm caused by another. And of course there is the tolerance of emotional pain versus physical pain.
A different viewpoint of tolerance refers to the ability of the body to have a higher or lower tolerance to certain substances: food, alcohol, and drugs. If someone is allergic to a certain substance, then they will have no tolerance whatsoever for that item. Their body may react violently by creating nausea, hives and in some instances death. Then there are people who abuse drugs and alcohol and somehow still function in society. Generally in these cases the individual has started using the substance slowly and gradually increased their amount of use, thereby allowing the body to get used to it and building up a tolerance.
While all of these are accurate portrayals of the word “tolerance”, the way that each person defines this word in their life is different. Tolerance is not only an idea, it is an action. A person may think that they are tolerant of another’s race or lifestyle, yet they may treat that person differently than they would someone who is similar to themself. In America we have certainly come a long ways from where we began in regards to tolerance, but many of us still have so far to go. While the general definition of tolerance is the acceptance of what is different from one person’s beliefs to another’s, tolerance can also be the point at which a person will step in when their or someone else’s beliefs are being challenged in a hurtful way.
That may be the level of their tolerance. There may be a point where someone says “I am not going to tolerate that anymore”, thereby being an act of tolerance in addition to a feeling.To bring this point home, tolerance is not only needed in most every aspect of our life, or even in the United States. Tolerance needs to be a global activity. Every war, every hate crime, every act of social inequality or injustice is a direct effect of a lack of tolerance.
That’s not to say that the people of every nation need to have a “kum-by-yah, hand holding” ceremony. As civilization continues, so will the level of tolerance, as each generation seems to be more tolerant than the one before it. Children are not born with intolerance, it is taught. And as those children raise their children, one can hope that the level of tolerance will continue. If we could all just learn to get along, the world would be such a better place.