The bus was taking forever. And it wasn’t just cold; it was windy, not like a gentle breeze. It was gusty, which is common in New York City. At least it was sunny. But we were still shivering while on 14th Street and 9th Ave surrounded by people who looked like arctic adventurers with the pervasive fur-lined hoods. Then my family and I met Tolerance.
Tolerance wasn’t a person. She was a tiny dog, so tiny that she almost looked like a gerbil, literally. She was cute. And I couldn’t help but feel the owner was trying to communicate something by naming her dog that multisyllabic word. It felt like a name that you would only find in a coastal city.
Then I stopped thinking about the cultural dynamics and moved on to the idea of the human condition and how tolerance fits in it and asked myself this question: Is tolerance (not the dog, but the actual meaning of the word) what we really need?
I doubt it.
Tolerance is an idea we can throw around when we live in urban centers like New York because it sounds good. It’s shiny. But it lacks depth. It can’t get the job done.
Humans, no matter how great, are greatly broken. We hurt one another. We hurt ourselves. It’s almost like we can’t help it.
And yes, tolerance is needed, but it’s not enough. Tolerance puts up with people. It lets them do what they do. It’s not about caring, helping, blessing. It allows people to do something, say something, think something without intervening, correcting, saving. But don’t you see that’s not what we really want. Tolerance is cold; it’s distant. There is less humanity in it. There isn’t intimacy, teaching, guiding that we need. We need others to be involved, engaged with us: parents, coaches, mentors, lovers. Even as adults, we need closeness. We need other humans talking to us, telling us how stupid we are being, giving us advice on how to do such and such, encouraging us to do better.
That’s not tolerance. Tolerance acts like a stranger, is aloof, standoffish, unmoved.
No, we want more than that. What we all really want is this.
We want people to care about what is happening in our lives. We want to feel heard, respected, cherished, important. We want people to ask us questions and listen—like really listen, making constant eye-contact and nodding the head at the right times kind of listening.
Tolerance is certainly needed. We do need more of it. Sometimes, when we see and hear people with whom we profoundly disagree, tolerance is the most we can give. And maybe a two-pound dog that looks like a gerbil is the best reminder for us to be more tolerant with one another.
But tolerance is the least we should do. I wish people named their dogs Love. Because that’s what we all really want; that’s what we all really need.
The world in which we live has darkness and evil that scares all of us. Yes, there is beauty and glory that is bewildering and dazzling. But there are unspeakable things that happen everywhere, even in the shining city of New York. And that darkness isn’t just out there, it inside of us. We have thoughts and feelings that we would never want to be projected for all of the world to see. Yet we still think them, feel them.
You see, tolerance isn’t strong enough to conquer the high tide of evil, pain, suffering that plagues our world, us.
But love can. It can meet it. And one day, Love will destroy all of our suffering, longing, agony.
The greatest act of love that I know of was displayed by a controversial man, who claimed to be God. He was innocent but was crucified. He wasn’t just going to die, but He was going to be abandoned by His Eternal Father. It was their plan. They did it because they wanted to swallow up evil. Not with swords, guns, military might, political maneuvering—no. They used sacrifice. By giving Himself up to the raging tide of hatred and death, being swallowed up by it, out of love, Jesus accomplished the work of paying for all of the darkness in the world, in our hearts. Hatred cannot be crushed. It can only be subdued, transformed.
Others also transformed the world through followed the same path though not to the same degree. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King used the power of love to defeat the power of hate. They absorbed violence and flooded the world with love, creating lasting transformation. Tolerance wasn’t strong enough to overcome slavery, bigotry, hate.
It can’t bring about peace. It only looks peaceful. Tolerance is merely a two-pound dog that can only scamper around and whimper.
Love is a lion.