Much of what passes for tolerance these days is in fact a kind of glorified indifference. So the next time you’re about to self-righteously pat yourself on the back for your tolerance, ask yourself: Was it hard to tolerate this? Did it require effort? Did it cost me anything? If the answer’s NO, if it was more or less effortless, you’re probably trafficking in counterfeit virtue. Because tolerance isn’t tolerance unless it hurts. We tolerate the heat. We tolerate the cold.
It’s easy to be open-minded about things you deem trivial or unimportant. It’s much harder to be open-minded about things you care about. For instance, it’s easy to tolerate your friend’s belief in astrology or prayer when you secretly think it’s all bullshit and you really couldn’t give a shit one way or the other. But when a diehard feminist decides to put up with her sexist little brother, despite all of his MRA bullshit, I know I’m looking at real tolerance. Likewise, when a hardcore fundamentalist decides to accept and love his gay son (and his son’s partner), despite his heartfelt beliefs about homosexuality, I know I’m looking at real tolerance.
In The Bed of Procrustes (2010), Nassim Nicholas Taleb maintains that “love without sacrifice is like theft.” What I’m saying about tolerance is of a similar stamp: tolerance that doesn’t involve some sort of sacrifice isn’t tolerance. That being said, it would be a mistake to conclude that I’m trashing indifference. Indifference is, for most of us, a coping mechanism, a highly effective coping mechanism; and, truth be told, I suspect that I’d be a total stress case if it weren’t for my well developed capacity for indifference. So I’m not knocking indifference, I’m merely saying that indifference isn’t tolerance.
Nor, I hasten to add, am I saying that we should tolerate everything. Tolerance without reasonable limits is like walking around with a “KICK ME” sign that you put on your own back. Some things are intolerable. Some things shouldn’t be tolerated. And we all have to balance the moral imperative to be tolerant with other equally valid moral imperatives: such as the need to be kind, loving, humble, and just. Ultimately, we choose to tolerate that which we can live with but are not exactly cool with.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)