Tolerance and the weather


All my life I’ve identified as a hot-weather girl. None of this snow and gloves and puffer jacket business for me. Give me sweat over sweaters any day. From the sun and heat I can find shade and fans and water.

But there is a kind of cold that slips under the skin that no heating or blanket can help. It’s like living with perpetual ague.

And yet the temperatures we’ve been hitting these days makes me long to sit in one of those freezers in gas stations from which you acquire ice to put in coolers. I don’t know if this ice has any other purpose on earth. I have never asked it and, curiously, it has never opened up to me.

Thinking about the weather takes me to ideas of tolerance. Walk with me.

Here are some words. They are not bad words. They are not words we habitually misuse. We may overuse them. Perhaps we are not always absolutely sincere when we say them. But I don’t think it’s malicious: I think we’re reaching for meanings, and these words are the closest we find.

On behalf of the Cambridge Dictionary and myself, I offer three words for your consideration: tolerance, acceptance and understanding. We – the dictionary and I – may or may not be engaged in a test of wills. (The dictionary is entirely unaware of my internal wrangling; please do not contact it on this matter.)

I will let the dictionary go first. Tolerance: “willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from your own, although you might not agree with or approve of them.” It also allows: “the ability to deal with something unpleasant or annoying,” or “to continue existing despite bad or difficult conditions.” Next, acceptance: “general agreement that something is satisfactory or right, or that someone should be included in a group.” Also: “the fact of accepting a difficult or unpleasant situation.” And last, understanding (isn’t it always?): “knowledge about a subject, situation, etc. or about how something works.” Or, says Cam, “a positive relationship between two people or groups in which they feel sympathy for each other.” And you can add, “sympathetic and caring.”

Now me.

There’s something begrudging about the definition of tolerance. Acceptance is not all that much fun either. It’s like vile cough syrup. It’s tortured, as in the days of yore when parents could force their children to go to birthday parties for other children they barely knew (yes, that does sound like a personal problem).

Yet upon these dreadful-sounding things we’ve built nations (including our own), signed agreements and treaties, and told people these were word by which to live. Why does “understanding” get such short shrift?

I imagine it really is too much to ask. All we can truly hope for is that we have in us enough put-up-with-ness so there’s not all-out war every day.

My problem with tolerance and acceptance is (she says flakily) they’re so unloving. I can’t possibly be the only one who has a problem with that.

I’ve used the dictionary as a sort of buffer between my inside voice and what’s fit for print. Not the God-given purpose of this noble tome. But I had to. I get too worked up about the tolerance matter.

We speak of tolerating the heat, the Sahara dust, the dust that used to be the garden. Or, far away, the terrible cold, hail, blistered lips. When I’m forced to endure very cold places, my already dry skin splits like I’ve been cut. Just so, on its own. These are things we may be forced to tolerate or accept because they cannot be changed because of circumstances.

It has nothing to do with a real appreciation of or a peaceable reconciliation with – mentally or otherwise – the thing that hurts. The thing causing unease or discord.

I have often felt tolerated. And I don’t like it at all.

I have seldom felt accepted, but that’s ok. I have never sought it. Since I do not like its meaning, not fitting in is fine.

But I think of all the people who do try to fit in. The ones who spend a lifetime trying to do it. I wonder if it is ever worth it.

To try to seem steady when your hands are shaking. To hide your accent or speak a certain way to distance yourself from where you’re from. To not put a jhandi in front your house because of your neighbourhood. To try to make your clothes seem trendy even though they are hand-me-downs.

Tolerance feels unkind. Acceptance barely cuts it.

We’re getting nowhere without understanding.

Remember to talk to your doctor or therapist if you want to know more about what you read here. In many cases, there’s no single solution or diagnosis to a mental health concern. Many people suffer from more than one condition.


"Tolerance and the weather"

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