Reach Out and Patronize Someone


Quite a word, that. Deceptive in its apparent receptivity. So transparently open, and yet so opaque and closed.

A word gifted from above. An idea granted as a boon.

“I tolerate you.”

In what twisted human relationship would these words be considered either warm or (even slightly) fuzzy? What self-respecting poet would swoon to hear them tumble from a lover’s lips? Not Byron, not Wordsworth, not even a giant of Suckling stature could take that phrase and make it anything but condescending and cold.

And yet…

We treat it as the height of humanity. We behave as if no other phrase in the English language could comprehend the levels of emotion contained in those three simple words:

“I tolerate you.”

Translation: I accept the fact of your existence, and the fact that it is illegal to kill you dead.

Hold me. I can’t contain the gratitude.

I do not need anyone to tell me that it’s okay to be me. I don’t need permission to think my thoughts. Your understanding and decency are welcome, of course, but they are not necessary.

What I need–what we all need–is awareness, that tolerance is NOT the highest good. It is NOT the greatest gift you or I can bestow upon our fellow human beings. Because to think such a thing implies that I am the fulcrum of everything. My opinion sets the tone. I tolerate you.


You are. I am. We are together.

Legitimacy belongs. It is not bestowed.

13 thoughts on “Reach Out and Patronize Someone

  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly, but it’s better than my family members who become angry when people talk about tolerance (and not for the reason you give for being annoyed with our use of it)—they get offended when someone implies that they *should* be tolerant; they resist being told that they cannot rage against another person’s existence or comment that they think the world would be better off if the other party were “killed dead.”

    For them, I’d be happy if they were willing to simply “tolerate” those they disagree with.

    1. Oh, there are definitely those for whom mere tolerance would be a giant step in the right direction. I’m related to some of them…as are we all, I’m sure.

  2. I totally agree that we can’t do more than tolerate unless we are coming to the table with the intent of getting to know who is sitting across from us and how they came to be there.

    I am not sure respecting ideas is the best way to do that, though I suppose that depends on you definition. I know many that would say you are disrespectful of Christianity despite your obvious and laudable respect of actual Christians. I think that is the ultimate goal – to be able to be honest and understanding and see the person, not the ideas.

    1. Not sure if you’re talking to me or to Russell here.

      In any case, I agree that the most important thing is to see past the ideology to the person who holds it. However, I’m not sure if we can do this without at least trying to understand, not the ideas themselves maybe, so much as where those ideas come from. Between talking to Victoria last week and watching the Nightly Show, I’m left with the whole vaccination issue: the people who hold those ideas don’t hold them in a vacuum, and they don’t necessarily hold them because of some celebrity with a vacuum in her head. The fears are legitimate–all fear is, insofar as it’s real to the person who faces it–even if the conclusions are questionable. Unless we understand the fears behind the ideas, we can’t begin to communicate with the real person.

      And there’s another post just waiting to happen… :0)

      1. It was meant for Russell. I buttoned wrong.

        I agree. We all weave strawmen far too often. Facts won’t always affect emotions, but getting to know the person behind the emotions is vital to communication.

        A little understanding and some critical thinking and we just might fix this crazy world.

      2. “The fears are legitimate–all fear is, insofar as it’s real to the person who faces it–even if the conclusions are questionable. Unless we understand the fears behind the ideas, we can’t begin to communicate with the real person.”

        The reason for fear is obvious. Parents don’t want harm to come to their children. The problem is — many are not open to information that would dispel their fears. People continue to rally around a 1998 study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that supposedly “proved” a link between vaccines and autism.

        The study was retracted. Wakefield was stripped of his medical license after it was determined that he manipulated data. The very idea that vaccines cause autism has been thoroughly discredited.

        I’ve been in their shoes — the parents who fear. I get it. I’m coming from the perspective of a parent who did have to contend with this very issue when my daughter was a baby.

        I initially bought into the misinformation — the baseless fear-mongering. People have the propensity to default to the emotional centers of the brain rather than using their frontal lobes to reason and comprehend the legitimate scientific data. It is the nature of the beast, so to speak. Instinct.

        Anyway, great post. Hope you have a great weekend.

    2. Great points, Madalyn!

      I find that I’m often capable of respecting some ideas that I would otherwise barely “tolerate,” simply due to an overflow of the respect I have for the person. Understanding someone (often through the ideas they share) helps me put myself in their situation and understand why they have those ideas – which is what you and Toad are talking about. If I can identify with people, or what I believe led them to their way of thinking, I can in some ways legitimize (and therefore often hold some respect) for an opinion that I don’t hold. This sometimes seems to go beyond respecting the person, but I’m still working that out, because on some levels it’s really the same thing. This philosophy has its limits, of course, but it sometimes works. 🙂

      As for people thinking I disrespect Christianity, I completely understand. Questioning and doubting can easily be viewed as disrespect. An authoritarian parent would often say so. I wish it weren’t seen that way, but I’ve found that my ability to show respect for an idea is often highly correlated with how well it encourages questions.

      Gentleness and respect,

  3. Hi Toad!

    I acknowledge that there are things which we cannot tolerate as a society (crime, for instance). However, except in a few circumstances, we should not be focused on “tolerating” people and ideas. We should respect the ideas we disagree with, and we should both respect and love the people who champion them. After all, if we truly care about others we will find a way to understand why they came to their conclusions. That understanding will bring respect and love. If we don’t care, then we’re only adding to the problem.

    You’re right. We are all in this together.

    Thank you for helping raise our standards.

    Gentleness and respect,

  4. Hear, hear!

    I always say I’m tolerant of everything but intolerance. What I really mean is that I’m not going to be silent when I find injustice. But we can’t pretend that it is our approval that validates others. Validation has to come from within, only when that happens can acceptance ripple to those outside our own heads.

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