The Tolerance Game

So, here’s something that I’ve struggled with:

I like to call myself tolerant, but I find myself intolerant of intolerant people like racists, homophobic or transphobic people, misogynists.

I find myself thinking “You’re gay, fine. You’re overweight, fine. You’re religious, fine. You’re a Neonazi, HELL NO, THAT SHIT DON’T FLY!”

So I asked myself: how can I call myself tolerant, when I’m *totally* intolerant towards certain groups and even expect them to change their behaviour? Should I work harder? Invite a few NPD members for tea?

And then it hit me:
This train of thought is based on a totally wrong assumption.
It assumes that the whole tolerance gig is an open system. Once you sign up, you gotta tolerate the shit out of everyone.

But maybe it’s not.

Maybe it’s more like a game, with rules that you have to accept so you can play with the others. If you don’t accept them, you can’t play, and you won’t get the advantages of playing, like being part of an enthusiastic community.

Let’s run with this for a moment:

I come – strangely enough for a German – from an American Football family. So imagine that fateful day in ’95 when I showed up for test training to join the newly formed ladies’ team of the Jade Bay Packers in Wilhelmshaven.
Imagine I had told my coach: “man, this eggshaped ball is a pain in the neck. I refuse to play with the egg, give me a round ball to play Football with.”

Would I have been allowed to join the Football team? Probably not, I was not willing to accept the rules.

Another example: say, you’re unemployed and you want a job, because you heard that if you have a job, people will give you money. But you’re not willing to do any work.
Will you get a job and get money? Of course not, you’re not willing to do what it takes to join this group that will supply you with certain advantages.

Tolerance works the same. If you want to be part of the tolerance community, you have to play by the rules. That is, you have to tolerate people and their lifestyles.
If you do, you’re part of the community and you suddenly have the right to be tolerated by other members of the tolerance community.

But if you walk into the try-outs and yell “but members of $ethnicgroup can go right back where they came from”, you’re *not* playing by the tolerance rules, you’re not allowed to join the tolerance community, and people are not required to tolerate you.

It’s that easy.

I don’t have to tolerate intolerant people, because they have kicked themselves out of the tolerance game by their intolerant behaviour, and thus they (or anybody else) can’t demand tolerance of me.

And since we’ve read the word “tolerance” so often now that it probably stopped looking like a a word three paragraphs ago: that’s all, folks :-)

***

As an aside, people have pointed out that we shouldn’t talk about tolerance, but about acceptance. They are right, and I have yet to figure out what that means for this post.
Also, it would be interesting to discuss whether it makes any difference whether we’re talking about features one can change or not (intolerance versus sexuality / skin color). And a topic for a further blog post: is it okay if my tolerance finds another boundary in my ethical framework (can I be tolerant of tolerant people who follow a pope who advocates hitting children?). But both of these questions are outside of the scope of *this* post.

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