The Virtue of Intolerance: 10 things you should never tolerate

“We tolerate people to our own virtue, but tolerate bad ideas to our own demise.”

Intolerance has a bad reputation. And with good reason too. Still, I’m not so sure it should be thrown out with the bathwater quite yet. As a matter of fact, I’m actually an advocate of having a good healthy dose of it. Surprised? Keep reading. I think you’ll agree.

You see, the problem with intolerance is not so much the intolerance per se as much as what our intolerance is directed at. It’s the object of intolerance that makes it a moral issue. Change the object and the morality of your intolerance changes too.

There are certainly things in life we should tolerate like human differences, the incessant questions from children, clumsy attempts by good-meaning people to offer help, bad fashion and the like. But there are times when intolerance is an outright virtue. Read on to see what I mean …

10 Things Worthy of Our Intolerance

1. Be Intolerant of Naysayers

Pursuing our dreams and reaching our goals are hard enough on their own. Trying to swim upstream as others throw rocks at us makes it unnecessarily harder. So be wary of sharing your goals with those who habitually doubt and criticize and put down. Wet blankets are wet blankets no matter what the relationship. Choose who you confide in wisely.

Those who tolerate pessimism (from themselves or others) are those who volunteer to climb the mountain of life with one arm tied behind their back and one leg cut off. Still, don’t confuse pessimism with wisdom or prudence.

Optimism is not intellectual laziness. Positive thinking does not grant absolution from responsibility or honest self-evaluation of your assets, abilities and commitment. It doesn’t excuse you from the hard work of preparation. Optimists still buy life insurance. (<– Tweet this!)

But where pessimism itself is creating deep caverns of difficulty between you and your dreams, a quiet and respectful yet sturdy and firm intolerance may be the most appropriate response.

2. Be Intolerant of Hate

Don’t tolerate racist jokes and comments. Don’t accept hateful barbs thrown at you or others. Never look the other way or excuse the bully regardless of the bully’s background. To do otherwise is to enable and empower the hate, to turn your back on the bullied, give tacit approval to the intolerable behavior and abandon its object to a miserable fate.

Don’t tolerate your own hate either. Hatred is a cancer that must be removed before it metastasizes into the bone marrow of your soul.

But be careful not to accuse every disagreement as being motivated by hate. Be tolerant of opposing ideas even if intolerant of the hate that may motivate some who articulate them.

3. Be Intolerant of Dishonesty

Don’t accept lies. Period. Don’t tell them. Don’t accept them. Live your life in such a way as to not feel the need to hide behind them. Don’t allow others (or yourself) the opportunity to nestle into their own cowardice.

That is, after all, what lying is. It’s an attempt to get around the consequences of our decisions. Or perhaps it’s a way to avoid the overreaction of someone close or who has authority over us.

Even so, have the courage to let the person overreacting choose how to deal with an honest life, not a pretended one. Then have the courage to accept their response.

4. Be Intolerant of Hypocrisy

Do you expect from others what you don’t expect from yourself? Do you impose a set of rules on others you won’t accept as an imposition on you? That’s what hypocrisy is, you know. Hypocrisy is the act of living a lie, pretending to be something you’re not or requiring others to live by a set of rules you reject for yourself.

If you tolerate hypocrisy from others, stop it! Demand an equal playing field. Anything less is a form of servitude. Refuse to be a slave to someone else’s unwillingness to treat you like an equal. (<– Tweet this!)

But remember that hypocrisy is not the same as inconsistency or human frailty. We are all inconsistent at living up to all we value. Otherwise, we would be perfect – or would have no ideals, standards or values we would have to bother trying to live up to.

So be decidedly tolerant of people inconsistently trying to live up to their values and intolerant of those who would hide behind their values or impose them on others while ducking the imposition themselves.

5. Be Intolerant of Excuses

Excuses are messy things. They squirm and whine and reshape themselves like playdough pushed into cracks and crevasses. They defuse and deny, weaken and stifle greatness. Stay away from the numbing poison of excuses.

Providing reasons is not the same as giving excuses, though. Reasons give an accounting, while excuses justify. Reasons accept responsibility, while excuses seek to pin fault on someone else’s lapel. Reasons explain, while excuses try to divert attention and hide motive.

So never give in to the self-defeating urge to give excuses for balls dropped and wrong turns made. And while you’re at it, don’t accept them from others either. Hold yourself and others accountable for the decisions you and they make.

Be compassionate, forgiving and patient as we all learn to accept responsibility for our choices, but intolerant of the excuses we may try to irresponsibly hide behind in the meantime.

6. Be Intolerant of Gossip

If you are not intolerant of gossip you will become a steppingstone for it to spread its social damage. Gossip not shared but tolerated is fueled. (<– Tweet this!)

Refuse to tolerate it. Stop it dead in its tracks. Ask for evidence. Make those dishing it out explain themselves. Suggest going to the person being gossiped about for their side as a concerned friend or neighbor or associate.

Be the person responsible for killing the words that whisper and sneak behind backs and cowardly hide behind anonymity. Gossip is a form of cowardice. Cowardice dies in the light. Shine the light.

7. Be Intolerant of Timewasters

The respect you have for yourself and others can be seen in the way you treat your time and theirs.

Don’t get me wrong, socializing and recreation are not wastes of time. They are essential to renew and befriend and experience many of life’s little joys.

But to spend hours on end in no particular endeavor, as a pattern of repeated behavior, stealing the moments otherwise available for more meaningful activities is to fundamentally misunderstand what life was meant to be … and, most tragically, what you could have become and accomplished had time been used more wisely.

8. Be Intolerant of Ingratitude

Ingratitude is a particularly ugly form of selfishness. It’s taking others’ kindness for granted, indifferent to their thoughtfulness.

Ingratitude is intolerable because it fails to recognize the humanity of the person who has done something kind. Even Jesus asked the 10th leper where the other nine were he had healed when the 10th was the only one to thank him.

Help people grow by gently and lovingly and compassionately reminding them to express gratitude more freely. You will be helping them lay a foundation for greater and deeper and more consistent levels of happiness. Still, the most effective way to encourage gratitude in others is to be grateful yourself. Lead by example, not in spite of it. (<– Tweet this!)

9. Be Intolerant of Self-condemnation

The words we use when we talk to ourselves or about ourselves matter tremendously. They matter because our words tend to gel into belief. And belief sets the parameter for action. We will never do what we are sure can never be done. (<– Tweet this!)

So our self-talk, the tone and words and meaning we use in our internal dialogue, shapes us, affecting (sometimes infecting) our attitudes and reactions to life. When we criticize and condemn, we start to believe we’re less, unworthy, inevitable screw-ups and good for very little.

Don’t tolerate it. Correct it. Argue against it. Push the little whiny weasel into the corner and out the backdoor … then lock it! And never allow the weasel back in.

Tolerate mistakes and human imperfection. Don’t tolerate the self-abusive contempt we sometimes internalize when we inevitably stumble.

10. Be Intolerant of Fear

Fear of bee stings is a good thing if you’re deathly allergic and standing at the edge of a field of flowers swarming with the little buggers as a friend (or enemy?) waves you out into the field. But it’s not a good thing if it keeps you from ever going outside.

Context and degree are important factors to consider when evaluating the psychological health of your fear.

But here are a few basic questions that should help:

• Is your fear limiting your ability to live life to its fullest?
• Is it tearing you apart from the inside?
• Is it harming relationships, self-esteem, self-respect, work performance or otherwise getting in the way?
• Is it chronic and debilitating?
• Does it control you?
• Is it overwhelming?

If your answer is yes to any of those questions, you are tolerating a response to a perceived threat that may not be as threatening as you think it is.

If you can, confront it. If you can’t, get help from someone who can walk you through it or around it or away from it. Remember, fear is only a perceived obstacle to the path you want to travel. It does not control you. It’s nothing more than a feeling, an emotional response to a perceived outcome. Change the perception and the fear starts to dissipate.


For the most part, I haven’t advocated intolerance for excuse givers or haters or dishonest people as much as intolerance for the action the flawed person engages in. I personally need peoples’ compassion for my own weaknesses too much to advocate such intolerance for others in their idiosyncratic weaknesses.

While there may be times when people should no longer be tolerated (child abusers come to mind!), as a general rule, people who have intolerable habits of attitude or behavior are the ones who most need our love in the form of a firm intolerance of their unacceptable behavior.

If they are open to growth, they have a cheerleader. If they are not, they have a choice.

The alternative is a life lived in shackles and chains, crippled and handicapped. Life, after all, presents its own obstacles without our volunteering to carry the burden of others or our own additional intolerable attitudes and behavior like so many bricks in a backpack up a mountain.


It would be great if you would Like or Tweet this post to help spread the message by clicking the icons below. I’d also love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Did you end up agreeing with me like I predicted? What would you add to the list?


Image by Ana Krach from Pixabay