Monday, December 5, 2011

Past Deadline: To Tolerate Tolorate

Every day I walk by a bulletin board in front of a church that features interesting quotes. The quotes change every couple of weeks or so and are always a good read.

Often they are inspirational or compelling or worth a chuckle – “Be the change you want to see in the world” kind of stuff.

I am really puzzling over the current one, however: “You can never change what you tolorate.”


I cringe every time I pass it because I have great difficulty tolerating spelling errors. Did they spell “tolerate” incorrectly on purpose to prove a point? Do they know writer-types walk by on a regular basis and this is some sort of test? Are they hiding inside watching to see how long it will be before I crack and stick a little Post-It Note on the glass with the word “TOLERATE” scrawled in red pen?

This is just my initial reaction to the sign. You have no idea how much time I have spent contemplating its meaning as I pass by.

Spelling issues aside, I tend to disagree with the statement. I think lots of people change what they tolerate. Usually this comes from the fact they increase their understanding of something they couldn’t tolerate previously.

Maybe, for example, they used to hate people who have purple hair. Once they come to realize that people with purple hair are really no different than anyone else, it can be argued they have increased tolerance.

Sometimes it comes from experience. I like to think, for instance, I re-evaluated my tolerance of pain after having my first kid. People get used to things…and they can tolerate them more.

If you go right back to the definition of “tolerate” (as distinct from the non-existent “tolorate”), it tells you something. It means to “allow the existence, practice or occurrence of; to endure or allow with patience, leniency or understanding; to sustain or endure (pain suffering, etc.); to be capable of continued subjection to (a drug, radiation, etc.) without harm.”

I’m not sure if I should commend myself for not rushing over to the sign with my Post-It Note or not. Is tolerating this spelling error a good thing or is it just showing that I am “sustaining and enduring suffering” because I suspect there may be a philosophical message behind this spelling error?

(Note: to any of my students who may be reading this, my tolerance of spelling errors in submitted assignments is definitely lower than it is in this example.)


Indeed, “tolerate” is an interesting word – and it goes from one extreme to another. In fact, when we “preach tolerance,” what exactly are we saying? Well, obviously, it depends upon the context. I guess in my head I have always seen tolerance as a good thing – something that open-minded people do – but it can also be a bad thing.

We can tolerate bullying, but we shouldn’t.

We can tolerate spelling errors, but that leads to a society rife with sloppiness. (Except, of course, in this case, where it is stimulating discussion.)

One of the other reasons I decided to devote a column to this subject was the story that surfaced in Ottawa last week about the singing OC Transpo driver.

For years, a bus driver on a route from downtown to Barrhaven has been belting out tunes as he drives. Well, amid all the kudos over time came a number of complaints, and the OC Transpo managers have asked him to stop.

It reminds me of the part in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the King of Swamp Castle has to repeatedly tell his son Herbert to stop singing. “Stop that! Stop that! You’re not going into a song while I’m here!”

I can understand if the guy was a really terrible singer, but most accounts seem to indicate the opposite.

It is a sad reflection on our times that people cannot tolerate a singing bus driver.

Sometimes it’s okay to “allow the existence, practice or occurrence” of something you may not necessarily love.

This is why I will “allow patience, leniency and understanding” when it comes to “tolorate.” Nevertheless, I hope the sign changes soon before I lose my mind.

Published in The Perth Courier, Nov. 17/11

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