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Vol. 17, No. 6, 2018
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Myrna Lashley is a psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University and a researcher at the Lady Davis Institute of the Jewish General Hospital. Her current research focuses on the intersections of culture, terrorism and national security. She is currently Barbados’s Honorary Consul to Montreal. This article was originally published in the Montreal Gazette.

During his speech to the assembled crowd at the 2018 Pride Parade in Montreal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decried the usage of the word “tolerance” by Canadians when referring to their neighbours who differ from them. Instead, he called for acceptance. I could not agree more.

As a person of colour and an individual who numbers many LGBTQ folk among relatives, friends and acquaintances, I am fully aware of the noxious effects of being tolerated. Although, given the occasion, Trudeau was primarily referencing the LGBTQ community, his rebuke of tolerance should be extended to other groups, for example: First Nations; seniors; the homeless; persons of colour; women; race etc.

Tolerating another human implies that the individual is somehow lacking; that she or he is not “as good as” and is devoid of particular qualities, which have been determined by some mysterious algorithm, of which the “offender” may or may not be aware. Moreover, the values represented by the algorithm are things over which the individual found wanting has absolutely no control, such as gender; sexual orientation; melanin content; phenotypes and so forth.

Tolerance also implies that the “tolerating” group is possessed of the belief that they have the right, and indeed the responsibility, to identify who should be granted the seal of tolerance. Thus, “tolerance” perpetuates the myth that some societal members are the gold standard against which all others must be judged. The extension of this belief is that the groups applying for the seal of tolerance are placed in a position where they must constantly monitor their behaviours; words; dress and other external manifestations of what the dominant group deems to be “normal” in order to be acceptable. Notably, the paradigm of “tolerance” does not confer full membership, which means that at worst, it can be withdrawn for transgressing the rules of the algorithm and at a minimum, be granted limited access to the rights and privileges enjoyed by the members of the self-identified ruling group.

The insidiousness of tolerance is compounded in cases where individuals have multiple attributes that are not accorded fully positive recognition by our society. Take for example, a black, gay, female, homeless, senior citizen. Each of these components of that person’s being intersect to create the whole. Yet each of these sections are subjected to the scourge of “tolerance,” which can be unbelievably stressful. Moreover, the stress of constantly striving to meet the criteria of “tolerance” and to behave in ways which are politically respectable could lead to cultural battle fatigue and despair, which can create a tremendous onslaught on the physical and mental health of the individual.

If we could all just imagine spending one’s life being “tolerated”; being viewed as the “other”; having to meet criteria of which one is not aware and into which neither you nor your group(s) had any input, perhaps it would be easy for us to understand why tolerance is such an unacceptable and vile concept.

Nor do I believe that “acceptance,” although better, is the answer, as acceptance still implies that one group has the intrinsic power to determine who will and who will not meet the criteria for acceptance.

We are a proud country composed of good people and I continue to believe that, in the main, we all want the best for each other. We should, therefore, abandon “tolerance” and work toward the inclusion of all of us into the body politic as the norm.

To paraphrase Prime Minister Trudeau, there is no place in Canada for tolerance when it pertains to respect for our fellow citizens.



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