Really, we want a tolerant society? We should actually ban the word tolerance

I feel blessed to have had a unique multicultural upbringing. My parents immigrated to England from India in the late 1960s, I was born in London and grew up just outside the city. When I went to elementary school, I was basically the only non-white child in the school. As expected, this led to a fair amount of name-calling and teasing, but looking back, I have to say this was very mild, and probably no more so than the kid who was chubby or who had big ears. Yet it still hurt a lot at the time and I can never forget it. Children will always be children, and will cruelly pick on anything different. Despite those experiences, which shaped me into who I am today, I never felt as a minority in Britain that society was ever working against me or trying to hold me back from achieving my potential—unlike the way minorities are still treated in so many countries. Nevertheless, growing up in the 1980s, the issues that were debated in society were very different and the UK in general was a much less accepting society. I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to be extremely proud of my Indian ancestry, but also to integrate fully into British society as a priority.

Fast forward to today, and the world is in a very different place. Debates about multiculturalism, racism and integration abound, and always strike a particular chord with me. I do believe that racism and racists exist in every society, and their ignorance needs to be tackled head on. There’s one word, however, that I simply don’t have any time for in the debate about race: Tolerance.

Why am I saying this? It’s become such a buzzword in the media. Isn’t a tolerant society what we want? No, it isn’t. That’s because tolerance is an absolutely awful word that implies by nature that something is bad.

For instance, I tolerate the occasional evening when the person across the street from me is playing loud music. I tolerate it when my neighbor’s dog messes up my front garden once in a while. I tolerate it when that screaming toddler on the table next to me in the restaurant is making my life a misery. I’m afraid that being tolerant about anything inherently implies it’s something bad that you have to “put up” with (check the dictionary definition if you don’t believe me).

I really don’t want anybody to “tolerate” me because I happen to be a darker skin color. To be honest, if someone feels the need to show tolerance to me just because I enter the room and they don’t like the way I look—I’d rather they just didn’t talk to me at all.

It’s time to banish the word tolerance altogether from the race debate.


Suneel Dhand is a physician, author, speaker and healthcare consultant. He has experience in a number of different healthcare environments, having worked up and down the East coast and also internationally. His specialty areas include hospital QI, optimizing healthcare IT, and improving the patient experience. He is the author of 3 books, including most recently “The Ultimate Patient Advocate in Your Pocket”, designed to help hospitalized patients. He is also the founder of HealthITImprove, an organization dedicated to improving and optimizing information technology at the frontlines of healthcare.

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