Do You Want to be Tolerated or Accepted?



Lately I have wanted to explore more deeply the ideas of acceptance and tolerance.  Both words are used quite frequently in discourse about inclusion of individuals with disability.  And while I have often heard these words used interchangeably, they have distinctly different meanings:

Acceptance - the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group.

Tolerance - the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.

Taken straight from a Google search, this definition of tolerance can be understood as “putting up with” someone or something with which you disagree.  Based on this, I would automatically reject the idea of promoting tolerance of individuals with disabilities. 

Now there are other definitions of tolerance, like this one from dictionary.com: “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.  And while this is a less strident definition than the first, I still find myself associating a sense of negativity with tolerance.  Advocates will tell you that inclusion is being welcomed and embraced as a member who belongs.  This is acceptance.

I am not the only one who reads this subtle, yet critical, difference between these two words, right?

Here’s the thing; I don’t want to be tolerated.  I want to be accepted.  Tolerating brings with it a certain sense of pandering.  “Yeah, yeah…go ahead, I will tolerate it.” Don’t patronize me, be genuinely nice.  I would prefer it if you even liked me; but if you don’t, that’s ok, because I don’t like everyone, either.  I will treat you with the kavod (respect) that you deserve, and I expect you to do the same.  You might be different from me, and I might disagree with you, but I will accept that you are who you are. 

dan l’chaf z’chut - Judge every person favorably (Pirkei Avot 1:6) and do not judge another person until you have stood in his/her place (Pirkei Avot 2:5)

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