Friday, March 11, 2005

Tolerance v. Acceptance

What is the difference between tolerance and acceptance? Why is it important?

Tolerance is an action. More precisely, it is a restraint from action. In the case of diversity, tolerance is treating all people decently whether one likes them or not, whether one accepts them or not. Acceptance, on the other hand, is a mental state. In the case of diversity, acceptance is embracing someone’s differences.

For example, I do not agree with the “gangsta” lifestyle. If I go a day without assaulting or otherwise harrming one of these “gangstas,” I have practiced a basic level of tolerance. More precisely, I have restrained myself from taking negative action against someone with whose lifestyle I do not agree. If I treat one of these “gangstas” just as politely as I would any other stranger, I have practiced a high level of tolerance. My view of the “gangsta” and his lifestyle have not changed, I have merely risen above the need to act out on that opinion.

What would it take for me to accept the “gangsta” lifestyle? I would first have to agree with it. To do this, I would have to change my beliefs about good and bad, since I see the “gangsta” lifestyle as harmful to others and ultimately self-destructive. In fact, I would have to abandon my deeply held belief that each individual should be treated with respect and dignity to accept the “gangsta” lifestyle, since it very often violates that belief.

While this may seem like a game of semantics to some, I believe this distinction is important since it creates a natural boundary of what government can ask of an individual. Can government ask an individual to practice a basic level of tolerance of diversity? Yes, since one does not have the right to act on his opinion to the harm of others. Can government ask an individual to accept diversity? No, since the First Amendment (implicity) protects the freedom of thought, without which the freedoms of speech, the press, and religion are meaningless.

Coming up soon... Should we treat people as people or as races and genders?

TOPIC: Education
TOPIC: Politics