Back in January when our Teen Girl Squad started, we were talking about the charge to love God and love people, and some question came up--maybe one about how to do that, exactly. And somebody mentioned tolerance.
Tolerance is (and has been for a while) the big-word-on-campus. The "secular world" loves to exhort us to exhibit it, and, by and large, the Christian subculture like to tut about it and talk about how it's all well and good, but What About Relativism, and Humans Do Sin, You Know.
All of that is as may be, but I have a sort of tenuous relationship with the concept of tolerance myself--partly because I grew up as a self-righteous twit for some reason, and partly because my own encounters with tolerance have left me a little jaded. So I told the girls about this jading experience:
Back in the day ("the day" always being a different point in time depending on my story, in case you hadn't noticed), I had this group of about six friends. We were a mixed group both in terms of gender and in terms of culture, so this led to some interesting dynamics and also a lot of talks at McDonalds. McDonalds was the place where any two of us would meet to "have it out" if we were experiencing, shall we say, communication difficulties, and because of this we ended up avoiding it most of the rest of the time. (Well, also because, you know, it was McDonalds.)
Everybody has their own personal failings, and mine were, perhaps, a little more glaring or culturally inappropriate in this group or something, and so eventually things broke down pretty badly, and I had to meet up with one of the guys in the group--at McDonalds--to have things out for the last time. The conversation (which is a polite word for what actually went down) was summed up when the guy made this statement: "Jenn, for as long as I've known you, you've been [this particular personal failing]. I've tolerated you for four years and I can't take it anymore. I'm not speaking to you again."
We ended up speaking again (though we're not in touch now), through a long and painful and healing process, but it was in that one instant that I decided I don't have much use for tolerance. It sounds all nice and innocuous when someone says, "We should just tolerate everybody," but when someone tells you they are, or have been, tolerating you, it's like they just slapped you in the face.
I don't, I realised, want to be tolerated. Ideally, I would like to be understood, but I'll go for being challenged if understanding isn't a possibility. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that the opposite of love isn't hate but indifference (quote, anybody?), and I think that's true. Love and hate at least both dignify their object with some sort of value. Indifference is complete and utter disregard. Indifference and tolerance, in my experience, end up being just about the same thing.
My McDonalds friend was right about my personal failing. I can see how it could have become unbearable. But I wish these friends would have told me ahead of time how unbearable it was, and would have tried to help me through it, instead of tolerating it up to the point where they couldn't take it anymore and just slammed the door in my face. I realise they might not have known how to do that, or furthermore that I might not have been as willing or able to change if I had been coaxed instead of being outright rejected. Sometimes it takes a shock to make a change. But I'd still like to make the argument that love of any variety, and tolerance, don't really go together very well.
But, we asked in our girls' group, aren't there ever times when tolerance is good? The girls talked about their younger siblings, and how they would stand up for them if it came down to it because they love them and they're their siblings, even if they drive them crazy. We tried to define this and didn't really come up with anything more definite than "good tolerance" versus "bad tolerance." But upon further reflection, I have started to wonder if maybe the name that distinguishes "good tolerance" is grace.
Anybody have any thoughts on this?