Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"You Keep Using That Word..."

Near the beginning of the all-time classic movie The Princess Bride, Vizzini kidnaps Princess Buttercup with the help of his two cohorts, Inigo Montoya the Spaniard, and Fezzig the Giant, while being pursued by the mysterious "man in black." Each time Inigo announces that the man in black is still hot on their trail, Vizzini hilariously exclaims "Inconceivable!!!" complete with his insane lisp. Eventually, after a final "Inconceivable," Inigo (played by the brilliant Mandy Patankin) stares at him and responds--"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Much like the uber-intelligent criminal mastermind Vizzini, a large portion of the world today keeps throwing around a word that does not mean what they think it means, and those most energetic about its usage seem to be the most ignorant of the meaning. The word is: Intolerance.

According to dictionary.com "intolerance" means: "The quality of being intolerant; refusal to allow to others the enjoyment of their opinions, chosen modes of worship, and the like; want of patience and forbearance; illiberality; bigotry; as, intolerance shown toward a religious sect." More importantly perhaps, is what "intolerance" does not mean, and much to the chagrin of the screaming public, is does not mean "simple disagreement with others' opinions."

Intolerance is my least favorite word in the English language, because it is no longer used without making the speaker look like a hypocrite. Currently, people are labeled as "intolerant," when they do not wholeheartedly agree with and embrace the other sides' views. This is ridiculous! If one uses that definition, the word becomes utterly impossible to use. Follow me through the steps of logic if you will: If I disagree with you, I am therefore intolerant of you. However, if I disagree with you then you must also be in disagreement with me. If you are in disagreement with me, by your definition, it therefore makes you....oh my gosh!...intolerant!!! It not only makes you intolerant, however, it makes you a hypocrite for calling another what you are yourself. Bummer.
(As a side note, I was clearly paying attention in 8th grade Geometry, because I did learn how to make a proof.)

Intolerance means that you do not allow others "the enjoyment of their opinions" and I don't care what planet you are on, allowing you to enjoy your opinions does not force me to agree with them. If you can not enjoy your opinions without everyone else on earth agreeing with you in every aspect, I wish you the best of luck with finding said enjoyment, but it is never going to happen. You can believe whatever you wish to believe, I will never hunt you down, or actively try to prevent you from saying your piece--because that would be intolerant. I will not even trample on the right of white supremacists or others I find morally reprehensible because I understand that the same amendment that grants them the right to spew their disgusting vitriol gives me the equal right to call them hateful, ignorant, monsters. You can not take away the rights of one without trampling on the rights of the other, and eventually, there will be no one left to fight when it's my rights on the chopping block. When we incorrectly use the word "intolerance" to describe anyone who does not see things the same way we do, we are actually saying that our beliefs are more correct than others, and others should therefore not be granted the same rights we are because they are "wrong." What a dangerous precipice to stand on!

I have already mentioned what I do not have the right to do, so what remains is to assert what I do have the right to do. If, you ask me a direct question, or ask me to vote and therefore choose sides on a controversial issue, I have every right to answer you with what I believe--no matter which side it falls on. That does not make me intolerant any more than choosing the opposite side makes you intolerant. It makes us different--which is why we have a democratic process in the first place. The founding fathers obviously picked up on the fact that you can't please all of the people all of the time. This is the most fair system we've got. If you did not want to hear what I had to say, you shouldn't have asked or backed me into a corner and forced me to choose sides.

So, what is a real-life example of intolerance, according to proper use of the word? Hmm, I don't know, let's see... Oh, how about firing someone for giving the "wrong" answer to a question you asked that wasn't supposed to have a "right" answer? Miss California USA may have been fired for "not upholding her commitments," but I can not help but wonder--not upholding her commitment to what? Her commitment the unspoken rule that she must fall to one specific side of a controversial issue? Her commitment to agree with a gossip columnist whose only "credibility" and "celebrity" comes from harsh comments on real celebrities goings-on and wardrobe choices? I'm sorry, but the whole point of asking controversial questions in a pageant setting is to that the contestants have the right to fall on either side, as long as they defend their points. If there's a specific answer to be found, maybe they should ask obviously one-sided questions such as "Puppies--cute or ugly?" or "Adolf Hitler--horrible monster or stand up chap? What do you think?" They should avoid the hornets' nest of issues that divide voters virtually in half altogether! Heck, maybe to avoid confusion in contestants who might actually speak for themselves, instead of asking questions, they should just make statements. "Gay marriage is right. Please expand on this established fact."

Regardless of what side of the gay marriage issue you stand on, this is just not right, any more than it would be right for one of those creepy little girl pageants in the deep South to decrown a contestant for saying she did agree with gay marriage (which by the way, the ACLU would be all over like white on rice). Disagreeing with someone is not intolerance, but firing them as a passive aggressive "punishment" for disagreeing with you, surely is "a want of patience and forbearance." It's real intolerance, by definition.

So, stop using that word, unless you are willing to understand what it means and use it correctly. Understand that the meaning of a word does not change just because the actual meaning does not meet your immediate needs. The more you call me "intolerant" for simply believing differently than you, the more it's not myself I consider ignorant, and it makes me want to buy you a dictionary.

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