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#tolerancemeans different meanings exist and coexist

Updated: Apr 8

Nataly Obando Rozo, Graduate, University of Illinois Chicago

It is an unusual occasion when we take some time to think about the meaning of values defining us. It is a paradox when everybody might agree we live in an intolerant society, yet anybody will accept being intolerant. According to Oxford or Cambridge dictionary, tolerance is “the ability to tolerate (…).” Not a helpful definition but in another common source, Wikipedia, tolerance is defined as “allowing, permitting, or accepting an action, idea, or person with which one dislikes or disagrees.” Notably, three important action words in this definition: Allowing, permitting, and acceptance. I notice a sense of superiority in these words, ‘I allow,’ ‘I permit,’ and ‘I accept.’ I believe these words are indeed rooted in intolerance, the belief that ‘I am right, and you are wrong’; ‘I am normal, you are different,’; ‘I am an adult, you a kid’; ‘I am an artist, you a craftsman’; ‘I have a religion, you a cosmovision.’ Therefore, I allow, permit, and accept you.

 Nataly Obando Rozo, Graduate, University of Illinois Chicago

We have learned that a coin can be seen from two sides, but we need to see it from more angles. For some, a coin could be the day’s goal; for others, it is a dirty object to get rid of, a means to bring food to their families, or a way to show a country’s presidential history. All are valid, true, and important reasons. I think it is what tolerance is about, the idea that different meanings exist and coexist. We don’t need to allow, permit, or accept others’ ideas. Instead, we need to understand that my idea is one in millions. Empathy, the ability to understand each other, should be the first intentional step in the tolerance conversation; even when barriers separate us, if we try to see the other’s struggle, I believe we can break down the wall that separates us. Unfortunately, the path of tolerance is not a fairy tale. It is uncomfortable, painful, and a never-ending story. Tolerance needs brave warriors; sadly, some of them are no longer with us.

I am a Colombian woman living in the United States with the benefits of being a documented student. Still, my heart struggles with those leaving everything behind because of their countries’ economic, political, or conflict situations; for those sons and daughters unable to see their parents; and for grandparents without seeing their grandchildren. This is the coin with which I struggle. As tolerance requires warriors, I invite you to think of which coin you struggle with; I believe the lack of empathy is related to our ignorance of these societal problems and, subsequently, the origin of intolerance. I invite you to think of which coin you struggle with. To consider all possible ways you could be wrong as all possible ways others could be right. To think that the kindest in the room is as essential as the smartest because values such as tolerance could also lead us as humanity.


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