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 “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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