Who Do You Tolerate?

Who Do You Tolerate?
Jerry N. Duncan, Ph.D., ABPP

There are two common usages of the word, “tolerate.” One is—“the ability to be fair and understanding to people whose ways, opinions, etc. are different from one's own.” The other is—
“to bear or endure; to put up with.”

Most of us would want to be known by others as a person who practices the first definition. Most of us would also like others to be fair and understanding in their treatment of us and our differentness. It is the second definition that I want us to think about for a moment.

Do you have anyone in your life that you believe “tolerates” you? If you do, I am pretty sure that it doesn’t create warm, fuzzy feelings inside. It will feel especially painful if this person is someone you care about, or someone whose genuine love, approval, or respect is important to you. If you practice the second definition with important others in your life, and you have a genuine relationship with God, you will probably not feel good afterwards. Something inside you will know and regret the way you are feeling toward that friend or family member.

Sometimes a person’s differentness is just that—different. Our negative judgement of that quality is our problem, not his/hers.

Sometimes a person’s “differentness” is an acknowledged area of struggle for that person. They recognize their weakness, but have decided to accept it as part of who they are. Or, they recognize their weakness and feel powerless to change it. They live in a state of frustrated resignation, and always feel “less than” because of it.

Everyone loses when an attitude of toleration is practiced in close relationships. What alternatives do we have?

We were intended to love others with a genuine love, understanding and compassion, that treats the differentness of others as something to be prayed for, or something to be celebrated—not just something we tolerate.

If another person’s differentness is not causing real harm to that person or to others, then it fits the category of differentness that is to be celebrated and encouraged. That individual’s uniqueness will allow them to connect with some people that would never allow someone “like us” to get close to them. God uses all kinds of vehicles to touch the hearts of those He is pursuing.

Our uniqueness can be a strategic tool in the hands of God.

Differentness that creates harm or struggle deserves our specific prayers and our willingness to be used by God in whatever way He thinks will best help that struggling person we love or care
about. He loves and cares about them too.

I am glad that God practices the first definition of toleration and not the second one.

We are called to be like Him, aren’t we?