An End to Tolerance

Mom, what would the world be like if Martin Luther King hadn’t had a dream?” That was the question my 7 year-old son asked me one Martin Luther King, Jr. Day several years ago. Wow, I thought. From the mouths of babes. Frankly, I can’t imagine that world.

The contribution of Dr. King has been so immense and significant that it’s unimaginable to think where we’d be as a nation, and as a world, without his work, and his dream.

But are we there yet? Has Dr. King’s dream been realized? Certainly since the 1960’s we’ve made much progress. But not for everyone certainly. And not all the time. And that’s not enough. We need to do more to achieve – and build on – Dr. King’s dream.

Today we live in a world where tolerance is the benchmark. Schools, businesses, and entire communities boast an “atmosphere of tolerance.” Frankly this has always bothered me. Is “tolerance” the best we can do? Once, my husband and I attended an open house at a very popular parochial school that we were considering for our children. The school’s representative proudly touted their “atmosphere of tolerance for all cultures.” I raised my hand and said I had a problem with that. You could have heard a pin drop.  I went on to add that I wanted my kids to celebrate and respect all cultures – not tolerate them.

" I wanted my kids to celebrate and respect all cultures – not tolerate them."

You see in our home, with our children, we do not allow tolerance. Why? Because tolerance is not respect. Not by a long shot. Though it is certainly an improvement from ignorance and hate, isn’t tolerance only meant to be a first step?

As a parent, I cannot condone telling my children to tolerate another human being, or send them out into a world with the hope that they will be treated with tolerance. Some people have suggested that tolerance means respect. You know, it’s just semantics. Really? Can you imagine saying, “I tolerate you” to another human being? Can you imagine hearing it? All people regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or disability, deserve better than tolerance. We all deserve respect.

"All people deserve better than tolerance. We all deserve respect."

I believe we are at our most powerful when we affirm the dignity of our fellow human beings. Let’s celebrate our differences, learn from the wisdom of our varied experiences, and move beyond tolerance. Let’s teach our children that not only should they be respectful towards all people, but also that they themselves are worthy of respect in their homes, their schools, their communities, and beyond. Let’s change the message from tolerance to respect. That is my dream.

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