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OPINION: Why I can’t tolerate “tolerance”

I don’t believe in the social imperative of ‘tolerance’. I do not support the idea of cultural, religious, and even racial tolerance.

Nav K. Samir

Strange, it may seem, given that I’m of half-Punjabi, half-Indian-Tamil descent with religious roots in both Hinduism and Islam, born and brought up in the predominantly ‘whitewashed ‘north-west regions of Sydney.

I’m basically a minority in every community I’ve hailed from.

Why then, would  I be against the notion of ‘tolerance’? It seems counter-intuitive, to say the least.

Perhaps it has something to do with a mate I once roomed with. He drank. I didn’t. He loved to party. I preferred reading in bed. He often stumbled in at 4am.

I preferred to, well, sleep.

But he was a friend. And he paid his rent on time. So I ‘tolerated’ his behaviour.

I tolerated him.

In the same way I tolerate my sisters’ constant bickering. Or the way I tolerate my parents’ hankering to see me married. Or the way I tolerate competitive colleagues at work, or group assignments at college.

These are common aspects of life that many can relate to, and that many tolerate themselves. Some of us tolerate so much that, at times, it may seem intolerable.

What’s common, however, is that by being ‘tolerant’ we are clearly subscribing to the perfunctory acceptance of something we, if presented with the option, wouldn’t necessarily accept. At least not readily. But we do because it appears to be ‘the right thing to do’.

By claiming that one ‘tolerates’ something, they automatically cast this ‘something’ into the negative, leaving judgement to be based on either assumption or experience.

This becomes a problem when assumption is causative of experience, thus validating notions of ‘tolerance’. Let me explain.

Due to policies of ‘social tolerance’, a person may be hired for a job primarily to make up the numbers for a ‘diversity checklist’.

We are therefore presented with a situation where the employer has made an assumption that the individual employed is incompetent till proven competent, regardless of their ability, experience or talent.

If the said individual is unable to meet these expectations of ‘competency’ within the probation period, then assumption will manifest into the experiential.

At most, the employee would remain employed only to meet the criteria of ‘diversity’, thereby confirming the initial notion of ‘tolerance’.

In such a situation, ‘tolerance’ proves to be sufficiently self-serving.

There are also circumstances where tolerance may be contingent upon a trade-off. This is common in many cosmopolitan cultures, but it remains tacitly accepted so as to maintain a veneer of ‘political correctness’. The following are a few examples:

“We’ll tolerate your strange, cultish, unAustralian/American/European Muslim customs as long as we can get a kebab and a mixed grill at 3am. With barbeque sauce.”

“We’ll tolerate your bargaining techniques and potential to multiply exponentially provided we get cheap IT support, saris and turbans for ‘Bollywood themed events’ and an excuse to commercialise parties and throw colour on each other every Holi. In the name of religious tolerance, of course.”

These trade-offs may seem crude and simplistic. But they are the unsaid realities of today’s society; institutionalised racism, prejudice and inequality masked under the ‘politically affable’ misnomer of ‘tolerance’.

They are reminders to minorities everywhere that they are being ‘tolerated’.

And that we should be grateful for it.

The Point

By being ‘tolerant’ we are clearly subscribing to the perfunctory acceptance of something we, if presented with the option, wouldn’t necessarily accept.


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