For some time now, `tolerance’ has been the buzzword on campus and around the country. Tolerance was the rallying cry when the menorah was toppled my sophomore year and racist bile was scrawled across dorm walls. Now, I hear again the calls for tolerance in response to the nation’s backlash against Arabs and Muslims. I was dissatisfied with the rhetoric then and I am now.

I tolerate an argument when I am undecided about its validity. If we want to hold on to the principle of free speech, we cannot use the coercive power of the state to suppress arguments and belief systems; we must tolerate repugnant opinions and ideologies. Sometimes we even need to tolerate the presence of unpleasant individuals, people we know and dislike and whose character offend us. Although we may not like them and even think that our society would be healthier without them, we learn to live with them. While I think that we can talk about tolerating offensive individuals in our lives, I think that talk about tolerating whole groups of people, most of whom are anonymous to us, allows us to shirk the responsibility of engaging other people and cultures. It allows us to avoid the discomfort of overcoming our own prejudices and asks only that we co-exist rather than communicate. What does it mean to say that I `tolerate’ not an individual who has offended me, but many people I have never met?

The language of tolerance is an inadequate standard for community and is, in fact, pernicious in that it often seems to be used to describe an acceptable relationship between dissimilar people, those who belong and those who must be `tolerated.’ We cannot talk about tolerating whole peoples as though they were not members of the same human race, country, university or family. I don’t see how tolerance is the acceptable lens through which to view Arabs, African- Americans, Jews or any peoples at all. Rather than be tolerated, people must be embraced and encouraged. We may tolerate repugnant viewpoints, ideas and actions, but we must offer all people the respect and dignity demanded by their personhood, their status in the moral world in which each is an end unto herself. Many of us are further required by our faith to love each other according to our divine creation. We need not like everyone, ought not coddle or idolize anyone, but tolerance is for actions, ineradicable vermin and beliefs and voices protected by our principles of free speech. A community of people cannot be built solely on toleration. It isn’t enough to refrain from hateful acts; community requires positive action and mutual investment and encouragement.

There are important differences between an association of people and a true community, and I think that the doctrine of tolerance is the short road to an association. We have recently seen examples of people meeting a better standard of community interaction, one based on mutual investment, concern and sympathy. I couldn’t have been the only one who paused to note the groups of Sikhs, uslims, Hindus and Christians in Healy circle after last week’s interfaith prayer service. The Muslim and Jewish Student Associations have also gone beyond the call of toleration to share in support and solidarity against despair and racism. If we aspire to create community, we would be well served to encourage a culture in which minorities are not tolerated as sojourners in an otherwise homogeneous and indigenous society, but instead afforded the investment, concern and support that characterize true community relations. If we resign ourselves to tolerance, we shirk our responsibility to break down our personal prejudices and egocentrism, engage and dialogue with different cultures and people, and we fail build community and content ourselves, instead, with association.

Andrew Hayashi is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.

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