As the school year marches onward and I find myself engaged in discussions concerning activities for National Anti-Bullying Week (4/8 /13– 4/12/13), I began wondering about acceptance and tolerance. It just so happened that I recently received an email from my martial arts instructor concerning a present he had been given. He commented on the tag that many of us are quick to discard. It stated, “This garment has been specially made with the finest materials available, constructed by skilled craftsmen. Any variations are what make this garment unique and should not be considered flaws or imperfections.” For me, this cemented the idea that it is our uniqueness that makes us great. So why do many of us focus on those individual qualities people have and use them to degrade or humiliate? Personally, I believe there is no simple answer to this question, but a good starting point would be to look at our language and beliefs. Specifically, we need to move away from the idea of tolerance and embrace the practice of acceptance. Consider the two definitions.
Merriam Webster defines tolerance as: The “capacity to endure pain or hardship” or “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own”
Is it really that hard to accept someone who is different? Do we need to feel sympathy for them? Is it actually painful to interact with someone who has differing viewpoints? Throughout our nation’s history, it has been the interactions of those with differing beliefs that has made us great through discussion, debate, and recognizing individual skill sets. As Voltaire put it, tolerance “is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly - that is the first law of nature.”
Conversely, Merriam Webster defines acceptance as: “Agreeing either expressly or by conduct to the act or offer of another…,” “the fact of being accepted,” or “the quality or state of being accepted or acceptable
We get to this agreement by not just tolerating others, but understanding that they are an individual like ourselves with skills, beliefs, and circumstances that may be unknown to us. According to Nathaniel Branden, “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”
Why don’t we strive for acceptance rather than tolerance? We tolerate decisions/answers with which we do not agree, issues that are forced upon us for no reason of our own making, and situations that arise on a daily basis. We should look to accepting that people are different and for that matter, valuable. After all, wouldn’t we hope that someone isn’t just tolerating our presence?
Arouet, F. (2013, March 24). Brainy quote. Retrieved from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/v/voltaire107394.html
Branden, N. (2013, March 24). Brainy quote. Retrieved from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/nathanielb163773.html
Webster, M. (2013, March 24). Definition of tolerance. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tolerance
Webster, M. (2013, March 24). Definition of tolerance. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/acceptance