Tolerance is a word that gets misused quite a bit in the media these days. It actually gets misconstrued with the definition of “tolerate” which is generally defined as “putting up with things we don’t like.” The actual definition of tolerance is different however:

-a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.

-a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions, beliefs, and practices that differ from one’s own.

-interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.

While I don’t believe that any person can be completely objective because of bias, it’s rather interesting to note that the first part of the definition ends with “freedom from bigotry.” For example, most of those in the media spouting off about the queer community not showing tolerance to them (typically because of their bigoted statements) usually expect tolerance towards them to come for free. There’s an expectation that tolerance actually means that marginalized communities have to tolerate bigoted behavior.

I feel that true tolerance involves accepting those that are different, without conditions and without harassment. I grew up in New Hampshire, where the old Yankee idea of tolerance has always rung true for me. The idea is that you may think your neighbor is a bit weird, or not like the church they go to, or whatever, but as long as they’re not coming over bothering you and not breaking the law, then you’re going to let them be. Heck, you might even take over a plate of cookies and say hello. But you never, ever, shove your beliefs down their throat, because, well, live free or die, you know? (NH folks really really don’t like people telling them what to do.)

In reality, what our country has become in terms of tolerance, was not what the Founding Fathers wanted of us. They believed we could do better, but somewhere along the way in our 239 years, we’ve lost that ideal. They understood that tolerance is a two-way street, and that tolerance involves acceptance, not bigotry.