Tolerance refers to the level of an individual or system’s endurance of hardship or level of acceptance of a situation or a behavior.
In the discussion of systemic racism, the subject of tolerance becomes complex. There is intolerance based on a longstanding group and social attitudes, resistance to diversity, family beliefs and practices, or all of the above.
A tolerance Level is important to an individual, family, or society to preserve values and maintain safety. Because of the importance of those values, they are hard to change. The discussion of systemic racism stimulated by the Black-Lives-Matter movement is both necessary and important. Unless articulated, historical practices of intolerance remain unexamined.
It is helpful to consider the role of tolerance in the raising of a child. Parents establish levels of tolerance to keep the small child safe and provide the environment for a healthy development. Inevitably, there comes times when tolerance levels need to be adapted to the development of the child. When the parent uncompromisingly maintains levels of behavior now inappropriate to that child’s development, the child suffers and fails to grow as needed for his or her welfare, social and academic needs, and sense of independence and competence.
There always is a need to articulate and examine existing tolerance level . What are the values the tolerance level is protecting? How effective are those tolerance levels in protecting or maintaining social safety? Are current levels of tolerance appropriate to new knowledge and understanding? (The developing science of climate change certainly has caused us to “lower the bar” of tolerance to protect the environment and human well-being.)
Diversity challenges the tolerance of various groups:
Some argue that highlighting diversity focuses on the differences between people rather that their commonality, thereby fracturing an already conflicted society, encouraging discrimination among races and cultures.
Cultural diversity is prone to be messy! Certainly, in a society characterized by cultural homogeneity, things can be ordered and counted; people more or less know what to expect; values can be clearly understood and consistently applied; communication is easier; individual worth is recognized apart from the group; society can strive for mutually worthwhile goals.
The immigrant/refugee crisis throughout the world points to a fear of deficiency of resources to meet the needs of those in crisis. Undocumented immigrants are suspected of capitalizing on programs of social assistance.
Cultural diversity confronts the individual with a host of differences, including style, appearance, and communication. Subjective experience of the different includes: what does not resemble me; what is outside of everyday experience; what is beyond what is expected or anticipated. Different can threaten my sense of personal safety, identity, competence, and belonging. As the individual develops and matures, he or she progresses through developmental stages that help him or her cope with and accept what is different.
Fear confronts us with our vulnerability. When faced with a threat, the primal human response is “fight or flight”. If we have not come to terms with our vulnerability, differences will continue to challenge us, create resistance, and inhibit conviviality. When we respond to diversity with curiosity and celebration, we invite into our lives and society variety, new experiences, new hope.