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What's the difference between tolerance and toleration?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Steve McDonald
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Command Chief
I'm sure you have all heard about the virtues of tolerance. Tolerance is considered a necessity in today's world of different cultures, values, opinions and beliefs.

As defined by, tolerance is a "fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry."

It's important to be tolerant of other's shortcomings. Voltaire said, "What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly--that is the first law of nature."

Please understand that there is a difference between pardoning wrongdoing and excusing it. We should also be tolerant of other opinions. Some people have a hard time with this because of the depth of their own convictions. But tolerance doesn't lessen a person's conviction. John F. Kennedy explained this when he said "tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others."

When thinking about this topic, it seemed to me that there is a subtle difference between being tolerant and tolerating something. Did you know that "toleration" is a real word? I didn't. (I admit I am not the most studious person.) defines toleration as "an act or instance of tolerating, esp. of what is not actually approved; forbearance."

When I think of the difference between the two, the best way I can describe it is that I see tolerance as the process of acceptance without compromise whereas toleration is acceptance with compromise.

In my mind, the fine line between the good of tolerance and the bad of toleration is crossed when people stop caring. Margaret Chase Smith, a Senator from Maine, said, "We should not permit tolerance to degenerate into indifference." Additionally, the Latin writer Publilius Syrus said, "We tolerate without rebuke the vices with which we have grown familiar."

If I have resigned myself to believe something is a lost cause, I have no recourse but to tolerate it. If I no longer care about what the right course of action is, I can tolerate the wrong course of action. But if I care enough, I can be tolerant but I can't just continue to tolerate what is wrong.

Tolerance, therefore, is encouraged, appreciated and necessary. You can be tolerant of others without any negative impact on relationships, mission accomplishment or good order and discipline. In many cases, tolerance results in increased understanding, better relationships and improved behavior.

Toleration, on the other hand, can have a very negative impact ... especially in this deployed environment. Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

If we tolerate people not following standards, we jeopardize good order and discipline in the work center. If we tolerate complacency, we risk mission degradation. If we tolerate substandard work, we place people's lives in danger. There are some things that should not be tolerated. When you see a situation that needs to be addressed or corrected, don't just put up with it ... please engage.