Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tolerance vs. Acceptance

Calvin and Hobbes are copyright Bill Waterson
About a month ago I got in a discussion with someone about the difference between Tolerance and Acceptance. Before we continue, let's define these two terms in the context of this discussion so that we understand just what we're talking about:
Acceptance refers, quite plainly, to whether or not you accept something as being right, correct, or most appropriate.
Tolerance might be described as the allowance of something to exist despite feelings that it should to the contrary. Hence a person might be said to "tolerate" the subject.
I'll demonstrate these differences first with a silly example, then move on to a better one.

My coworkers and I (much to our fault) enjoy imbibing energy drinks from time to time. However, while I prefer Monster energy drinks and have a mild distaste for Red Bull, they're both fans of Red Bull and have a distaste for Monster. In this situation, I do not have Acceptance for their drink preference - however, I have Tolerance for it. If they start talking about how much they love Red Bull (provided they don't do it for two hours) I don't try to silence them by shouting them down. I permit them to state their opinion, and then I give mine if conscience demands it.

Now for a better example, this one regarding faith and religion: I do not believe Buddhism is the true faith, nor do I believe it to be a true religion (insofar as it is the right religion). I could not nor could I ever be a Buddhist. I do not, therefore, have Acceptance in regards to Buddhism. However, do I believe that Buddhists should be persecuted for their beliefs? Do I believe the American government should ban Buddhism? Do I believe that Buddhist priests should be forbidden from performing their rituals? Do I believe Buddhist holy books should be burned and forbidden from being published? Absolutely, positively not. I firmly believe Buddhists should be left alone to worship as they see fit, and do not believe the government should interfere in any way so long as the individual Buddhist obeys the law. In this regard, I have Tolerance for Buddhism, because even though I do not accept it as the true religion, I tolerate its existence alongside my own faith.

Here comes an important question then: is there a visible difference between the two? In some ways there can be. If I engage in dialogue with a Buddhist and discuss the topic of faith and spirituality in a calm demeanor, not talking over him or yelling him down, then I am showing that I do not have Acceptance but I have Tolerance. That is, I display the lack of Acceptance in my disagreement, but I show Tolerance in permitting the Buddhist to state his beliefs without directly intruding upon them in any manner other than my disagreement.

One might now be asking: Why is this long discussion necessary? I answer because of two reason: 1) the necessity for such a difference in a free society; 2) to tame a dangerous flame sweeping through the post-modern world.

1) In a free society where ideas can be exchanged, a difference between Acceptance and Toleration must be permitted. How else can different political parties be permitted to exist? Democrats and Republicans cannot coexist unless some Tolerance is present, even if Acceptance does not exist between the two of them. A truly free society should permit the variety of ideas to exist on the basis of Tolerance but not Acceptance. Note here that I said ideas should be permitted, not necessarily actions. A person who believes women should never have a job should, within a truly free society, be permitted to at least have such an opinion even if, by law, he is required to hire on equal terms between men and women.

2) In our time, the line is blurred between Acceptance and Tolerance, so that most people will not accept Tolerance unless it first complies with Acceptance. Such people would look to the earlier example with the Buddhist and myself and declare me intolerant for simply disagreeing with the Buddhist. In such a situation, a society becomes closer to George Orwell's 1984, with its concept of "thoughtcrime" or "crimethink," than it does any model for democracy. In many areas of the west, it is not enough to merely tolerate contrary must accept it heart, body and soul as well. To refuse to accept is considered a grave crime, and the person is labeled as deficient in thought on this basis alone. This places many ideologies not equal with others, but superior to others.

All of this is why the need for an understanding of how acceptance and tolerance are different needs to be expressed and discussed further among the populace today.