Tolerance is the word of the day. Our 21st-century society has mandated that we be tolerant, but does society even know what tolerance means? Tolerance as a concept has changed, but so has its very definition.
In Merriam-Webster’s original 1828 dictionary, tolerate meant “to suffer to be or to be done without prohibition or hinderance; to allow or permit negatively, by not preventing; not to restrain; as, to tolerate opinions or practices.”
Things have changed. In Webster’s current Online Dictionary, tolerate means “to allow to be or to be done without prohibition, hindrance, or contradiction, to put up with.”
It is fascinating and troubling how we have corrupted our own language. The original definition implies that to tolerate is to allow. The newer definition goes a step further and says that even disagreeing with a group or idea is intolerant.
In a well-intentioned attempt to be more inclusive, our society has actually become more exclusive. It has become politically incorrect to disagree with social movements – any resistance through either rhetoric or demonstration is labeled intolerant. The glaring irony is how intolerant our new definition actually is. It takes away the debate.
The power of rhetorical disagreement is rapidly vanishing, and any attempt at salvaging debate would be futile, as those attempts would fall victim to the misinterpretation of intolerance.
I absolutely believe people are now afraid to disagree with each other because if we truly want to be tolerant, we can’t dissent. Our own language binds us. By definition, if we contradict, we are intolerant.
Even if we believe something is morally wrong, we can no longer protest without fear of repercussions. If we believe an idea or movement is potentially perilous, we must remain silent.
If dissenters do unite, they are portrayed as fools. The tea party movement in the United States has captured national attention, but now, these people are reduced to mere radicals. The same shackles limit groups who opposed the tea party; they also are portrayed as whiners.
If our society is so bent on inclusion, then every individual’s ideas must be included, even ideas not painted as “progressive.” Calling those who disagree oppressive is unfair and equally oppressive.
No person should be afraid to express himself. No person should be forced to base her beliefs on what society considers the norm. If a person disagrees with a social movement or idea, that should be perfectly legitimate. Anything else would just be intolerant.