“Mind if I say something?” (A 90-second reading on tolerance)

tolerance-2Halfway through a first class meeting a few years ago, the professor announced a 10 minute break.  The person seated next to me, whom I had only just met, said to me, “Do you mind if I say something?”  Thinking it difficult to answer that question with a “Yes, I do mind,” I replied, “Of course not.  Go ahead.”  She then distorted her face and said, “Your pen STINKS!  I hate the way it smells.”

I looked at her, and tried to process what had just happened.  She had used the question, “Do you mind if I say something?” as a pathway to rudeness, and as an excuse for her lack of decorum and manners.  In the simple matter of a pen, it wasn’t really a big deal, but I fear that, as a society at large, we have adopted this strategy.  By asking permission to speak into someone’s life, we feel justified and welcome to say whatever we please.

Whatever happened to tolerance?

Surely we can embrace the fact that we share this world with others, meaning that at times—even often—we are going to encounter circumstances, situations, relationships and personalities that make us uncomfortable.  So what?  When did it become acceptable to put a premium on self-comfort?

Is there something wrong with being tolerant?  According to thesaurus.com, the following are all synonyms for the word tolerant:  advanced, benevolent, big, charitable, fair, forbearing, forgiving, humane, kindhearted, long-suffering, magnanimous, merciful, patient, progressive, receptive, sophisticated, sympathetic, understanding, and unprejudiced.

I would be happy to be defined by any one of those terms.  Let us exhort one another to be tolerant, long-suffering, and merciful.

By the way, as I processed my classmate’s statement about my smelly pen, I carefully (though quickly) considered my reply, and decided on the following: “Oh, I’m sorry!!  I didn’t notice a scent from the pen.  So what shall we do?  Do you want me to use a different pen, or would you like to find a different seat?”  In reflection, I’m not sure my reply was magnanimous.  What might have been a better response?  Please comment below.

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