Tolerance is one of the virtues that figure in our Step 4 inventory as a corrective to anger and resentment, the others being patience, kindness, and compassion. It is also the underlying principle in Tradition 3, which makes a desire to stop drinking the only requirement for membership.
Tolerance is an antidote to anger and resentment because its opposite, intolerance, is naturally conducive to these emotions. As a character defect, intolerance focuses on a perceived difference in a person which arouses ill will and inclines us to eschew, exclude, condemn, or otherwise reject that person.
The anger and the resentment typical of intolerance result, not necessarily from anything the person has done to us, but from the mere fact that the person is different. It is not that we have been wronged, but that there is a perceived wrongness in the person that in some way impinges on something that is important to us and which we, therefore, find objectionable or offensive. To our eyes, the difference effectively defines the person, and so we reject the one along with the other.
By contrast, tolerance accepts the person as a person without necessarily accepting the perceived difference. Whereas intolerance focuses its attention on the difference, tolerance subordinates the difference to the person, focusing on a greater commonality and ultimately on her intrinsic worth and dignity as a person. In so doing it takes the edge off ill will with its attendant destructive emotions.
Intolerance is a comparative vice or character defect. What leads to intolerance is a comparison where we come out on top. We detect a difference that redounds to our advantage and makes us, in some way, superior. Intolerance is therefore one of the many faces of pride.
Our inventory pulls the rug from under intolerance because it shows us how seriously flawed we really are and how much harm we have done to people. We are no better than anyone and no one is worse than us. It fosters tolerance because it shows us that we suffer from a common spiritual illness that accounts for our defects of character and emotion and the wrongs that we inflict upon each other.
When we see others as fellow sufferers, we no longer see them as fundamentally different from us. We identify in the things that matter most, and as we do intolerance weakens and anger and resentment diminish. Tolerance then becomes a natural disposition.
[Image: Anne Smith, Dr. Bob’s wife and “Mother of A.A.,” as Bill W. referred to her.]