In a recent Facebook exchange with a friend, I explained my issue with the word “tolerance.” To me, the concept is problematic. Much as I would like for our world to be a nicer, friendlier place, I don’t know that tolerating someone, i.e., putting up with him or her, is the way to go. Making room for someone at the table still means that the decision resides with the person or people who sit at that table daily. The only power ceded is that deigned okay to cede. This is not to say we shouldn’t be accepting of others, but we need to create an even playing field to begin with.
If I shift to the word tolerance, though, I see things in a brighter light. A tolerant society is one in which everyone is accepting of others.
This made me think of the words in Hebrew that share the same three letter root of sameach – vet – lamed, ס־ב־ל.
The Hebrew word for tolerance is sovlanut, סוֹבְלָנוּת, and it is one letter removed from the Hebrew word for patience, savlanut, סַבְלָנוּת. The relationship makes sense, to have tolerance is to have patience. But to not have tolerance, to actually not want to put up with someone or to say “I can’t stand” him or her, is in Hebrew to say one doesn’t suffer the other, לא סובל.
What is interesting is that suffering, sevel, סֵבֶל, has yet another meaning, and that is to carry something very heavy, so heavy it causes anguish. When we have no patience or tolerance, aren’t we shouldering a burden of negativity? Aren’t we causing our own suffering? When we unburden ourselves from that which weighs us down – like intolerance, we can feel lighter, stand taller.
To circle back to the beginning, if we can shed the idea of tolerating or putting up with other people and instead concentrate on creating an atmosphere of where all are welcome, we will achieve much. It may take patience, but we will get there.