Tolerance is being exposed to something you in some way oppose: you might dislike it or disagree with it, but in response you do nothing; you tolerate it. In other words, to tolerate something is to dislike it but let it happen anyway. This is as opposed to what one might normally do, which would be to intervene and stop what you dislike from happening
A common example of intolerance is when someone is racist, homophobic, or otherwise xenophobic. They might tell a Muslim not to pray in public, or a gay couple not to kiss in public, or a mother not to breast feed her child in public. The xenophobe could have been tolerant and ignored all the things they didn’t like, but instead to chose to act and prevent the things thy thought were bad. Such people do not tolerate things they disagree with.
Tolerance as a Virtue
Tolerance is often viewed as a virtue because intolerance is so often associated with xenophobes and those who wish to impose their views on others. Tolerance is not a virtue; someone who tolerates people they hate are still hateful. A tolerant homophobe still hates gay people, they just don’t show it. In this way tolerance is merely a tool for xenophobes to avoid the criticism of others. They can stay hidden behind tolerance and political correctness. They know exactly how to act in public so that no one suspects them of being hateful. They go by unnoticed, maintaining their hatred.
This is obvious when we say we don’t tolerate clearly bad things, like tardiness, or racism. If we don’t tolerate tardiness, then we are simply strict. If we are don’t tolerate racism, then we are in fact doing a good thing. Being intolerant does not mean you are hateful, it means you choose to be active. We don’t tolerate uncontrolled fires, or murder, because those are things that are clearly bad and should be stopped. Being tolerant of immoral things is bad because you then take part of the blame for allowing those bad things to happen.
One could argue that xenophobes are then good for being intolerant, although obviously bad for being racist. The point is valid: why would you stand by if you think something bad is happening? The answer is that you shouldn’t, but that simply means that intolerant racists have good intentions, but are acting misguidedly. Tolerance needs too be understood for what is truly is: inaction. It is the decision to let something happen even if you don’t want it to. Tolerating pain may be fine, but tolerating immorality or hate is not. In any of these cases, it is always a better, more effective and more permanent solution to try to understand what you hate so you no longer hate it, and thus no longer have to tolerate it.
Tolerance is often confused with understanding and acceptance. These are virtues because they improve how we interact with others, and broaden our minds. A homophobe should not be tolerant of gay people, they should try to understand gay people in order to accept them. If we simply allow people to stay hateful, but hide it behind a veil of tolerance, then society doesn’t change. Minorities will feel safer because they aren’t targeted as often, people speak out against them less often, but there aren’t any fewer people who hate them. Tolerance hides the issue, it doesn’t solve it.
Hate is derived from a lack of understanding. If we think that it is wrong to be gay and right to be heterosexual, it is because we dogmatically follow a belief that claims straight relationships are objectively correct. This leaves no room for any different theories, so when a xenophobe is confronted with someone who doesn’t follow this, their first instinct is to condemn them as breaking the rules instead of wondering why they are different. The choice to not try to understand people is what leads people to make assumptions about them. This leads to them trying to justify their beliefs by telling themselves lies about how bad other people are. In a way they care more about their beliefs being right than about knowing the truth.
This just leads to delusion, dogma, the breakdown of rational thought, close mindedness, and possible harm to others and themselves. Instead, if they tried to understand why people do these things, they probably would not hate them. If one looks at different races, sexual orientations, genders, religious faiths, national origins or any other denomination, it should be clear that there is nothing inherently morally wrong about them. These are all arbitrary features of people, some of which they did not even have control over. There is no connection between something as arbitrary as a colour and how dangerous someone is. All it takes is an attempt to understand these people and an open mind to realise how silly hate is.
Once you understand why a group of people do what they do, or realise that their features do not define them, one may overcome hate and accept people. It is only by accepting that which you used to hate that you can truly be at peace and find truth.
I don’t want racists to hide in plain sight and avoid hurting people for the time being, I want them to realise they are mistaken so that no one is ever at risk of being the victim of a hate crime. Without acceptance, large groups of xenophobes will remain, and they might lash out without warning since we don’t know who they are. They will secretly blame immigrants for all their issues and even for issues they don’t have, and they could sway an election or a vote, surprising all the normal people who didn’t know so many people were still xenophobic. They could rise up when they are led to believe that racism is acceptable, spreading their close minded messages of hatred and targeting people with violence. Innocent people will be hurt and they would never expect it.
Tolerance is a band aid: it is a temporary solution to minimise casualties, but does not fix anything in the long term.
Instead of tolerating what we hate, we should instead try to understand it to remove that hate and make ourselves more open.