What it supposedly means:
Everyone should be accepting of all ways of living and no one (especially Christians) should ever say anything bad about anything.
Why it’s silly:
Alright, first off, I’d like to say that there is nothing I dislike more than people who are of another faith (or lack thereof) and somehow feel that it is okay to demean another person’s religion. It is absolutely the rudest most uncivilized thing you can do to a person. To tell someone that you don’t share their faith and that that somehow gives you the right to belittle and harass them is unconscionable.
Now, the word “tolerance.” We see this word all the time. We’re constantly told that we should practice tolerance, as if doing this simple little thing will solve all of the world’s problems. Seriously, that’s how it’s sold. The problem in this case is that tolerance is the wrong word.
I don’t just want to tolerate people. If I’m tolerating someone, I’m only just bearing their presence. I tolerate the guy in front of me at the grocery store who hasn’t bathed in three weeks. I tolerate the obnoxious, whiney kid on the plane that has kept everyone up for the last five hours. I tolerate the couple in the roller coaster line who can’t stop making out. I never want to use the word ‘tolerance’ to describe my feelings for a person who simply holds a different view.
You may ask me, “If not ‘tolerance,’ then what?”
How about respect?
Let’s make the effort to not just tolerate someone with a different view. Let’s respect them. Because, when you respect someone, you are letting them know that, although you may not agree with him or her, that person still has value to you. Respecting people can go a long way toward beginning a real conversation.
Understand, just because you respect someone, that doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything (or anything) that they say. I’m a Christian, so I’m used to being told that I should practice tolerance. When people tell me this, they mean “Don’t tell me that what I am doing is wrong. I don’t want to hear your opinion.” Fine. Then don’t listen, because like it or not, I have opinions (a lot actually) and I will express them. Respectfully.
And that’s okay. I may not agree with, and I may not even like you, but I will always do my best to respect you. Trust me, that can get really hard when I’m constantly being called a racist, intolerant, bigot.* Then comes a big part of respect: forgiveness.
So, what do you think? Is respect a better word? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
P.S. One more thing about respecting people: Don’t call them names!