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#tolerancemeans looking for similarities beyond the differences

Updated: Apr 8

Violet Lutgen, Graduate, St. Mary's College of California

Essay: One of the first places I went with my now-partner was a cafe in Denver with a Bible quote on the wall. I can't remember the specific words, but it was a call to accept those who sin--accept us on this Earth, for the good of one's own soul, because God will judge us in the end. This is what tolerance is not. It does not have an agenda. It does not have a metaphysics. It does not come from a place of superiority, or of insecurity.

Conor Lutgen, Graduate, St. Mary's College of California

This September, I was picked up from the Saint Mary's campus by a rideshare driver who chatted and laughed with me the whole way home. He told me about his family and how driving part-time helped him pay for this car, this big SUV with plenty of space for rowdy kids in the backseat. He kept calling me "sir" and "gentleman," even though I was wearing a skirt and stockings, eyeshadow and eyeliner. I think the question of pronouns simply did not occur to him. I got the sense that he had seen me, taken me in, and shrugged to himself. Had told himself, "I guess this is what the kids are into these days." This, maybe, is what tolerance is: not a perfect understanding of one another, but a willingness to look for similarities before looking for differences.

Weeks later, I was standing in line at the Pleasant Hill Safeway after a nerve-wracking walk through the neighborhood during which a woman had shrieked at me from the back of a pickup truck for how I was dressed. When I got to the front of the line, the checker asked how my day was, and I told her it was only okay. She recognized me, I think. I am a regular at that store. She, too, took in what I was wearing, the skirt and the crop top, and intuited that today had been a strange one for me. She did not say anything about it. She smiled more warmly than normal, and laughed when I ventured a joke, and called me "dear." I left feeling better than before.

Too often, we try to codify our kindnesses. To justify them. This is the beauty and terror of words: they are able to make any point of view seem reasonable. With enough words, one can convince oneself that judgment is tolerance, that divinity demands punishment. Tolerance is not about stringing the right words together in the right order. It is about the emotion underneath, and that, fortunately, is a much easier thing to understand and control, a question each of us can ask ourselves: Do we want to act out of fear, or out of love?


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