What Is the Meaning of Tolerance?

Pgiam/E+/Getty Images

Tolerance is the ability to accept ideas, behaviors and feelings that are different than those of the individual. In science, it is the ability of the body to adjust to a new substance.

The regular everyday use of the word “tolerance” is distinct from the way doctors use it in medicine. The most common use of tolerance is to talk about the general way people interact with those who are unlike themselves. While according to Merriam-Webster the word can mean “capacity to endure pain or hardship,” people often use it more in a positive sense to talk about positive interactions between dissimilar groups. For example, if people of Caucasian descent in a particular city mix and interact well with those of African descent, this is often known as an area where people practice tolerance. But this does not only apply to racial groups.

It has also been applied to issues such as sexual orientation, political beliefs, religious beliefs and other habits and behaviors. An example of different cultures that value tolerance is in the United States. The founding fathers of the United States included religious tolerance as one of the key factors and founding principles of their nation. There is debate about which ideas and behaviors should be tolerated, and there are plenty that are not tolerated by most countries including certain criminal behaviors.