“I’ll regret it the rest of my life if I don’t do something to get you to change.” This was my father’s plea urging me to go to gay conversion therapy. I was twenty-two years old when my father told me this but he still treated me like a child, trying to “correct” my “immoral” behavior just like when I was growing up. I remember my grandmother incessantly lecturing me about how I needed to make friends with boys rather than just girls. I remember my father harassing me about the types of toys with which I enjoyed playing. My thirteen-year stint in Catholic schools only served my family’s campaign to force me into the “proper” mold. Any hope that others understood what I was going through seemed far from reality. I even remember a theology teacher comparing homosexuality to bestiality.
"Tolerating" women in the public sphere. "Tolerating" the legitimacy and livelihood of black bodies. "Tolerating" the right to LGBTQ+ unions.
“Putting up” with difference should not be a source of pride—it should be the first step in a challenge to uplift the diversity in America. Tolerance should go beyond "allowing" people to exist; it should be encouraging people to exist, helping them to exist, and being in solidarity with their existence. Tolerance means intertwining with pluralism.
Coming to Loras College has opened the door to a variety of new scenarios in which tolerance is necessary. To me, tolerance is the ability to love someone for who they are, even if you don’t relate with them in particular ways. I have had the privilege of being able to attend Catholic schools my entire life who practice my faith. Because of where I grew up, I have mostly been surrounded by a predominately white community who share similar beliefs as I. College has given me exposure to lots of people who I differ from in ways I have never experienced before. As a result, I have had to adjust my understanding to know that not everyone shares the same religious beliefs as me, not everyone has the same culture as me, not everyone has the same sexual orientation as me, and more. This has personally not been a very hard thing to do because I am someone who believes you should love everyone for who they are, and especially for the beautiful things that make them different from you.
What does tolerance mean, you ask?
Tolerance is a black man walking around a store without being followed or suspected of theft.
Tolerance is not being fired when receiving a bad diagnosis or learning of a genetic predisposition for a disease.
Tolerance is holding my girlfriend’s hand in public, unafraid, without fear of being attacked or harassed. It is talking openly about my personal life at work, not worrying that I will be fired from my job, and it is getting married to the person I love.
As I picked myself up off the brittle and brown grass of a November soccer field, my wrist was swelling and throbbing in pain. A collision during practice left me with what turned out to be a compound fracture. That would have been cool if it wasn’t for the fact that the opposing force was the ball. A well-placed shot from the team captain didn’t find the back of the net, but my wrist had paid the price for saving the scrimmage. Before I could get off the field and on my way to the athletic trainer, my protective façade of tough-guy nonchalance had crumbled. My 15-year-old brain was left to contemplate the consequences of my teammates seeing me crying after being assaulted by a soccer ball.
Religion and gay rights--do they have to be at odds? I feel the unspoken answer looked for here is, “No! Tolerance is the answer, and let me tell you why!”. But I’d like to challenge that. In the religious context, I don’t think tolerance makes much sense. Because of this, focusing on toleration in our faith communities sets the bar too low for what we should really be working towards.
Tolerance is a concept that has changed for me over time. I once defined it as simply being understanding and accepting of others - no knowledge or significant effort required. After becoming a counselor, however, I learned that tolerance involved the effort of learning about others as well. Even more recently and more importantly, after becoming a mother and watching my child grow, tolerance has come to mean a whole lot more. Tolerance is a never-ending journey of self-discovery, reflection, and self-improvement.
If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard someone say “America is more divided than ever” since the election, I wouldn’t be writing this scholarship essay. I could probably pay off my student loans and buy a sports car.
But there’s a reason I’ve heard so much about our nation divided. We can’t agree on very much these days. We watch different news stations. We read different websites. We don’t agree on guns, abortion, or gay marriage. Half of America loves the president; half of America wants him impeached. And healthcare makes rocket science look like tinker toys.
In trying times like these, we must find common ground. We need tolerance now more than ever. But what exactly does it mean to be tolerant?
Tolerance begins with recognizing one simple fact. We all grow up in a different house, in a different place, with different parents. None of us choose these things,
One of the great inventions of the post-industrial revolution era is the steel I-beam. The I-beam works because it leverages pieces that face in different and opposite directions. Two thin steel “flanges” run parallel with each other, with a perpendicular steel “web” connecting the two and running the distance between them. It gets its name because when viewed in a cross section the metal pieces make an “I”. The I-beam is such an ingenious piece of engineering because compared to traditional steel beams the I-beam is made up of much less steel without sacrificing any of its strength. This means I-beams can be used in large construction projects, spanning vast distances and supporting weight that would otherwise be impossible.
Tolerance plays a similar role. In our democracy there are as many different viewpoints and opinions as there are participants. Although these differences have notably been the source of friction in our society, they are what gives our democracy strength.
Our world is getting only more full of people and more interconnected. So in a way, this means our world is actually becoming smaller—we all are being thrust into contact with various types of people, cultures, and behaviors. And this all means that, if we hope to continue living in a smoothly functioning society, each of us must attempt not only to be tolerant of different people and cultures, but also to grapple with the question of what it means to be tolerant.
Having taken some time to do both, I’ve come to some conclusions about what tolerance means to me. First, it involves keeping in mind the humanity of our peers. We must remember that the interests of real people—who, like us, have feelings, goals, friends, families—are at stake when we make many of our choices. These choices can either help other people, or harm them.
Most Americans agree that tolerance—the ability to abide an idea or group one does not agree with—is an important virtue. Incidentally, most people also view themselves as tolerant (Putnam, 2010). Research shows that a majority of people believe they exhibit positive values through their lives and actions; this belief holds even among white supremacists and perpetrators of hate crimes (Blee, 1998; Franklin, 1998). Individuals regard themselves as ‘tolerant’ as long as they are not actively, consciously oppressing someone who identifies (or is defined by society) as a member of a minority group (Fritzsche, 2000).
The importance of tolerance—receiving tolerance as well as practicing it—was thrown into sharp relief for me after the birth of my first son in 2013….