Acceptance vs. Tolerance – Why we need both

Acceptance vs. Tolerance

Last week I wrote about why tolerance is a more realistic expectation than acceptance for American society. This week I want to discuss why acceptance is an essential part of any civilized nation, including the United States.

Wait. What?

I know, it sounds like I’m starting to contradict myself, but stick with me. I promise both viewpoints (pro-tolerance and pro-acceptance) are completely compatible and possible for every individual to hold.

Acceptance is essential to civilization.To refresh your memory, tolerance is about respecting beliefs, opinions, and lifestyles you disagree with. Acceptance is about approving and viewing favorably those different from you. Note the differences in the definitions. Tolerance has to do with beliefs, opinion, and lifestyles. Acceptance has to do with the people holding those opinions and beliefs and living those lifestyles.

While I completely agree that some beliefs, opinions, and lifestyles are incompatible and unacceptable to different people, I fully believe that every person should be accepted and respected even if you don’t agree with the way they live or think. The vast differences between people are part of the reason America is sometimes referred to as the great melting pot. We’re all in this together, and whether we agree with the guy down the road or not, we need to accept him as a valid, important human being.

In the debate between tolerance and acceptance, the arguments over whose religion is right and which lifestyle is best, people often miss the point. That point? It doesn’t matter. We’re all individuals with our own way of doing things. We’re going to find like-minded people, but not everyone is going to agree with us and that’s fine. That’s why tolerance is essential to the survival of American society. Yet without acceptance of each individual as a person, society is still at risk of failure and chaos.

Let me give you an example of why acceptance of people as valid and important beings is essential.

April is Autism Awareness MonthApril is Autism Awareness Month. While most people know autism exists, far fewer truly accept autistic people as being as valid and important as non-autistics. This is true of many disabilities, especially the invisible ones. That lack of acceptance and the general theme of seeing autism as the person being broken or needing to change in order to be acceptable hurts. I say this as an autistic adult. We need to be viewed with the same respect and acceptance as our neurotypical (non-autistic) counterparts if we’re ever going to thrive.

Yes, autism poses great challenges. No, it’s not easy, either for the autistic or the people around them. But we are people. We are not broken. We are different, and most of us don’t mind being different… until people start telling us there’s something wrong with us or refusing to give us a chance.

Acceptance can change that. It doesn’t take much to accept someone who is different from you. All you have to do is quit thinking, “Hey, that guy’s different” and start thinking, “Hey, that guy’s a person just like me.”

The National Down Syndrome Conference has a campaign I love and wish we would see for more disabilities, religions, and ethnicities. It shows how people with Down Syndrome are “More Alike Than Different” when compared to people without the disorder. That’s how everyone needs to view the people around them. Instead of focusing on the differences, focus on the similarities.

That’s where acceptance begins. When you can look past whatever makes the person different from you or the beliefs you may not agree with and respect the person as a person, that’s when acceptance happens. That’s when the contention and hate stop and the real discussions and debates on the things you tolerate but can’t accept happen.

What do you think? Is important for everyone to accept everyone else, or is tolerating the existence of those you don’t agree with or understand enough? Or do you think something else entirely?


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