Just because someone insults at you, doesn’t mean they’re intolerant

By Michael d’Oliveira

When a woman started insulting former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon at a Richmond book store, the owner told her to leave. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the woman called Bannon “a piece of trash.”

The owner told her to leave and she did. He was later quoted as saying, “We are a bookshop. Bookshops are all about ideas and tolerating different opinions and not about verbally assaulting somebody, which is what was happening.” It’s certainly fair to call the woman’s actions rude. It might even be fair to say it was verbal assault. But it’s not fair to say she was intolerant. She did tolerate Bannon’s ideas. She just decided to express her own ideas of what she thought of him and his.

“Tolerance” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “The ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behavior that one dislikes or disagrees with.”

While she clearly doesn’t like Bannon or what he stands for, she’s fallen far short of committing intolerance. Calling people names isn’t an example of intolerance. It’s an example of rudeness. People trade insults on social media all the time. It doesn’t mean they don’t believe in the other person’s right to believe or say what they want. It just means they’ve chosen insults as a way to exercise their own free speech rights.

Intolerance should be a word reserved for when people commit acts of violence against those they disagree with in an effort to silence them. Or when someone tries to prevent someone else from expressing an idea. Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban because she spoke out in favor of girls and women having access to education. That’s real intolerance.  

Part of the give and take of free speech is we have to be able to withstand the possible harsh backlash to our own ideas. As long as that backlash is peaceful and doesn’t seek to silence us, it’s not really intolerance. It’s just people using their own voice to respond to yours. You may not like it, but that’s the price you pay for living in a free society: you and your ideas are open to be disrespected.

The woman in question had a right to call Bannon a “piece of trash.” And the owner of the book store had the right to demand she leave because he didn’t like her behavior. The book store owner was even within his rights to call the police because she wouldn’t leave his property after being asked the first time.

The only one who suffered here was the dictionary. Words have meaning and should be used properly.