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)