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What does Tolerant mean?

Updated on November 20, 2013

Define Tolerance

In the United States today, it could be argued that this word is used too loosely. The very use of this word would mean that one is admitting to the fact, that yes indeed, they disagree with the subject matter in some shape or form. That they will 'tolerate', the issue, be it skin colour, nationality, sexual orientation or other difference, yet this also means that they clearly have an issue with this very difference.



  1. Showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.
  2. (of a plant, animal, or machine) Able to endure (specified conditions or treatment).

Teaching this 'tolerance', rather than 'acceptance', could be seen as a major issue in society today. And thinking about it, you have probably used this word in this context. I know I have. That was until I realized how offensive it actually is. The problem is, I did not mean it to mean, what the word actually means.

We all push 'tolerance', of different races, as if it is the right thing to do. Why are we not pushing acceptance? Tolerance is something that we do when someone smells in the elevator, and we cannot wait until the doors open to get the heck out of there. Tolerance is when our neighbor in the office has a really annoying jingle voice every time they answer the phone. Tolerance is also the ability of our immune system to fight off disease.

Yet, somewhere along the line, tolerance became our ability to 'not be racist' or bigoted. Wow, aren’t I great, I can tolerate that person for being who they are. For being different. This statement of tolerance truly does imply that we are in fact uncomfortable with this person for being different.

In the times we live in, maybe it is time to start questioning why we use these kinds of terms. They are offensive, and they should not be used, especially on such a wide and accepted basis.

The Real Irony

The Real Irony behind this term is even more important. Well, people politely tell me, "this is America and you are foreign. You don’t understand. We use that word like that". Well think for a second. If the word is used in relation to people who are usually different, usually from the outside and the great irony is, they will not know what your understanding of this word is. The rest of the world uses this term to explain one’s ability to put up with something they dislike, or even hate.

Sometimes it’s more important to look outside the box and think of how the recipient feels. This term is indeed offensive. And one can't help but wonder, why, how and for what reason it began to be used in such a way?


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    • cfin profile image

      cfin 5 years ago from The World we live in

      Thank you for your comment. I couldn't help but notice the misuse of the word, and on such a widespread basis.

    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 5 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      very nicely defined the word, an addition to me, voted up.