Random header image... Refresh for more!


Tigger wrote a great comment the other day on the Boys Wearing Dresses post where she asks: “I want to teach my son tolerance, and yet you shouldn’t tolerate intolerance… and doesn’t that then make you intolerant?”  It reminded me of when we explained to the twins why we weren’t going to the Elvis Costello concert nor purchasing his music anymore, even though he was one of my favourite musicians.  We were still going to listen to his old stuff, but we weren’t going to invest money in his career anymore due to his stance on BDS.

“So we are boycotting Elvis Costello because you don’t support his boycott?” the ChickieNob asked.

To be fair, there is a big difference between boycotting an individual and boycotting a country.  In one case, the individual has control over his or her actions, and in the other, the citizens can’t necessarily control the actions of their government.  And it’s the citizens who are harmed by a country boycott — people who don’t have the means to make the change.  But the idea of boycotting someone for boycotting makes about as much sense as being intolerant of intolerance.

[And amusingly, A had her own version of this in a comment on the Maeve Binchy post where she mused on the idea of cutting down women who cut down women.]

So should we be intolerant of intolerance?

Or does that make us just as bad as the intolerant?


I have to admit that I have a problem with the concept of tolerance, especially when it is applied to a group of people.  It’s probably similar to how I feel about individual boycotts vs. group boycotts.  Or why I have a problem with banning groups of people vs. banning behaviours.

I have no problem that I can’t call out curse words at the ballpark — they’ve banned the behaviour, and it’s their park, their rules.  It is clear why I can’t call out curse words, and how this behaviour might impede on the enjoyment of the game for the people around me.  I have a big problem with banning children from public spaces because it isn’t clear why they are being banned.  Not all children are disruptive, whereas there is no way to utilize the word “fuck” and make it playable over public radio.  So non-disruptive children are lumped in with disruptive children, and we have intolerance rear its head; applied to everyone within a certain group.

I am always puzzled when people use arguments such as “I paid X amount to go to X, and I don’t want to be disturbed.”  Which makes it sound as if there is anyone out there who wants their evening encroached on by another individual.  There!  That is where I place my intolerance: individuals who encroach on my evening whether they are children or adults or elderly ladies.  No one wants their evening ruined, and people are certainly entitled to be able to enjoy a movie without cell phones going off, curse words being shouted, or children tantruming.  If any of those things occur, I’m all for that person being escorted out of the theater.

If you want to run a public space (whether that public space is a restaurant, movie theater, or blog), you need to be responsible and put on your big girl panties and run the space.  Which means having uncomfortable interactions with users from time-to-time as you deal with each person on a case-by-case basis.  Even if children are banned, it doesn’t mean employees can relax on the job.  They still need to escort out drunk people who vomit in the restaurant (yes, I’ve seen this before).  Or talk to customers about turning off their cell phone.  Or calling the police if a theater goer becomes belligerent.  Running a public space should be a positive experience, but even positive experiences come with drawbacks from time to time, and if you’re the person in charge, you have to deal with those awkward, uncomfortable moments.

Unless we’re going to ban all people who might possibly commit an inappropriate behaviour for the space, I can’t stand by and support the banning of one group of individuals.  Banning individuals before they’ve ever gotten a chance to prove which side of the encroachment line they fall feels prejudice.  Intolerance.


On the flip side, I don’t really understand the idea of tolerating a group of people.  Tolerating is one step above throwing up in your mouth.  There is no group of people — especially one comprised of individuals I don’t know — that I tolerate.  I don’t endure groups, I endure individuals.  Annoying, obnoxious individuals.  Tolerance is a word I apply to those individuals I must spend time with and really rather I didn’t.  And I find it strange to apply that term to a whole group of people.  How do I even know that they’d be unpleasant to spend time around?  Maybe they’d be great fun if I gave them a chance.

The Olympic games are fresh in my mind, especially the Opening Ceremony when all the athletes filed past, waving their country’s flag.  Pretty much every single group looked around the stadium in absolute wonder, just thrilled to have made it to the Olympics.  How can you see that collective response to reaching the games and still believe that we need to solely tolerate one another on a racial, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, age (or take your pick of your favourite divisive trait) level.  Do I believe there were assholes amongst the athletes, the sort I’d need to tolerate if I had to sit next to them at dinner?  Absolutely.  I think there were plenty of people in that wave of athletes who’d be absolutely dreadful to spend time with, and if I did end up next to them for the evening, I’d have to tolerate them.  But could I apply that thought to an entire team of people?  A region of teams?  A continent-worth of teams?  That’s where I think the idea of tolerance of groups becomes dangerous; when we believe that we know all we can know about a set of individuals based on a single shared characteristic.

So I don’t tolerate anyone based on their race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, age: I only tolerate people based on how much they’re an asshole.  And can some kids be assholes?  Absolutely.  But so can some adults.  Which is why I give you all a chance.  Until you show me a reason not to give you a chance.


And yet, having said all of the above, I am a firm believer in teaching tolerance.  Meaning; teaching that you need to sit next to people who annoy you, work with people who piss you off, and get along with the whole of society.  That it’s fine to have problems with individuals, but you should stick around and try to work it out — tolerate one another — instead of cutting yourself off from the offending person.

In this world of unfriending someone with the click of the button, I think it would behoove children (and adults) to also learn that skill of tolerance, of being with people who annoy the crap out of you and enduring them the whole time you need to be together.  You don’t need to love them; you don’t even need to like them, but you do sometimes need to suck it up and tolerate an individual, even if they don’t really deserve your tolerance.


Because humans live in the face-to-face world (and online) in communities.  And the flip side of never learning tolerance, in choosing instead to make your world smaller and smaller by cutting people out of your life who feel intolerable is that you end up with a very small circle of support.   There is a difference between toxic people who detract enormously from your life, and people who are just annoying.  And one deserves to be treated with intolerance.  And the other group, that latter group, you have to tolerate them.  For tolerance sake.


1 Mud Hut Mama { 08.15.12 at 10:15 am }

I absolutely loved this post and I especially loved this line, “so I don’t tolerate anyone based on their race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, age: I only tolerate people based on how much they’re an asshole.”

2 Cristy { 08.15.12 at 11:04 am }

Interesting post. One that analyzes tolerance on many levels and suggests we need probably need to redefine it.

I’ve been thinking about tolerance a lot lately in light of recent personal experience. What I’ve learned is that people tend to group others together under the guise of tolerance following a conflict. Instead of focusing on behavior (such as not tolerating consuming alcohol at business meetings), we focus on the classification of the person (criminals are not allowed at business meetings). On one end, it’s easier. Making broad sweeping conclusions about a group eliminates the trouble-makers. But it also alienates those who would do well otherwise and would even benefit from being in such a setting. The problem is, it’s hard to single out individuals who will be the source of the problem. I worked for years as a swimming instructor and I can’t begin to tell you the number of stories of people who insisted I was violating their civil rights when I asked them to leave because they had violated the rules for the establishment and/or endangering themselves or others. It was always a scene, even though I was holding that person (be they child, adult or elderly) to the same standards as everyone else. The way the establishment handled being tolerant was a high turn-over in employees. And by the time I was getting ready to leave, they were starting to ban certain families based on past behavior, ultimately excluding individuals who would have been okay.

I guess my question point is that this is a difficult topic. One that most certainly needs to be taught and explored. But one that should continually be revisited too.

3 deathstar { 08.15.12 at 11:32 am }

I have learned to tolerate annoying people that I have to deal with on a regular basis because apparently everyone has a Buddhahood. I don’t tolerate people who are rude and obnoxious at bus stops who feel like oppressing people with their rude words or behaviour, but I have come to really treasure people that I couldn’t stand at first. In fact, I have chanted to become their good friend. It did not mean that I let them say whatever they felt like with no consequence, I just tried to be gently honest and called them on their behaviour all the while trying to be conpassionate to their suffering.

My husband mistakenly thinks I like everybody – I don’t. I just try to be respectful as I can manage.

4 Kathy { 08.15.12 at 1:08 pm }

I appreciate the distinctions you make here between tolerating individuals and groups of people. That speaks to the problem with stereotypes and generalizations. I like how you make The case for children and all people to learn to tolerate other individuals that they may find annoying at times. That is an important life skill. Thank you for another thought provoking post.

5 a { 08.15.12 at 3:04 pm }

Ah, tolerance! A long-running idea in my FB political discussion group is that tolerating one thing (in this group’s case, homosexuality) leads you down the slippery slope of having to tolerate anything (in this group’s case, pedophilia). I think it’s actually pretty easy to draw a line, but others do not agree with me. And don’t even get me started on the supposed religious tolerance that exists (or not). I almost pointed someone in the direction of your post about the girl whose priest told her that Jews have horns, but had to withdraw from the discussion before I became uncivil.

I am of the opinion that I should respect the views of other people but it’s just SO HARD when they’re obviously wearing blinders.

6 N { 08.15.12 at 9:08 pm }

Love this post. Have no brain to say more, though I desperately want to, but wanted to say this, at least.

7 Justine { 08.15.12 at 9:53 pm }

So I’m UU. Which means that the people in my church supposedly welcome ideas from many sources of wisdom, don’t discriminate, etc. People are supposed to be able to identify, say, as both Christian AND UU. Or atheist AND UU.

AND YET: there have been a few brouhahas over the fact that as supposedly “tolerant” people, we are mostly tolerant of *other* tolerant people. Many of the fellowship members are self-described “recovering X” where X is some well-established orthodoxy. So there’s been some offhanded bashing of well-established orthodoxies with which people still align themselves. And then much apologizing.

I used to say the same thing about Democrats … that they welcome everyone with open arms, as long as they share their ideology.

So I appreciate the distinction between people and groups, and the challenge to tolerate PEOPLE who take you out of your comfort zone. On the other hand, I also think it’s important to be able to remove ourselves from uncomfortable situations without feeling like we’ve failed.

8 Emily @ablanket2keep { 08.16.12 at 1:22 pm }

Great post. “so I don’t tolerate anyone based on their race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, age: I only tolerate people based on how much they’re an asshole.”
I feel the same way. There are people I hate being around daily, but there is no way to get away so you have to suck it up and tolerate them the best you can.

9 Bea { 08.17.12 at 1:42 am }

We should be tolerant of people who are intolerant, but not of the intolerance itself.


(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author