How many times have you heard it said that we must be tolerant of someone, thing, idea, etc. with the implication being that you must accept it? The words “tolerance” and “acceptance” are used interchangeably these days, but do they really mean the same thing?
The definition for the word “acceptance” has changed little in the last 180+ years, still meaning:
A receiving with approbation or satisfaction; favorable reception; as work done to acceptance.
Looking up the word “tolerance” in the old Webster’s 1828 dictionary, we find this definition:
The power or capacity of enduring; or the act of enduring.
The more current definition I find in the new Webster’s dictionary (circa 2003) is: open-mindedness; forbearance
So, you may say – it’s just semantics – means the same thing. But does it really? Is open-mindedness really the same as “enduring”?
I personally find in the day to day world many things about which I am not and would not be accepting of – however, realizing that not everyone has had the same experiences to shape them as have I, I am tolerant of things in others that I would not accept of myself. So from that standpoint, I absolutely do not believe that acceptance and tolerance are the same thing. I tend to go more along with the older word definitions, because, frankly, I think our language has been bastardized and weakened considerably by poor education, political correctness, and just general laziness.
Words are important – and weighty. Our forefathers understood the importance of weighing their words carefully – and expressing themselves in a very articulate manner. They used a tremendous volume of words at times to express what seem relatively simple concepts, but they did so because it was important to them that every “i” be dotted and every “t” crossed. They knew that the smallest matter not spelled out in our Constitution would lead to difficulties down the road when it came time for their descendants to interpret what they’d written. They did a remarkable job, but it was inevitable with time that word meanings should devolve and their writings lose some of the very preciseness they initially held.
I love words. I’ve loved words for as long as I can remember – I guess from the days as a child when I’d ask my dad for the meaning of something and he’d point me to the dictionary. I have been known on a number of occasions to actually sit and read through the dictionary, or flip through its covers looking for new words to commit to memory. It is for that reason that I become disturbed when I feel that word meanings have become corrupted.
I’m afraid at times that I may come across as a moralizer – it’s really not my intention – but I think of myself more as a moral philosopher or ethicist.
But I have digressed greatly. Back to the original question. Social liberalism would lead one to believe that tolerance and acceptance are the same, that I must accept the religions and beliefs of others. Once again, acceptance means to receive with satisfaction or give a favorable reception. Tolerance, however, means that while I must *endure* (put up with) the beliefs of others, I do not have to give them a favorable reception – I simply have to let them BE.
Tolerance and acceptance also go hand in hand with that 4 syllable monster of a word that has been bandied about so much – DIVERSITY. This country has been referred to as a “melting pot”, “multicultural”, “salad bowl” or “cultural mosaic”. While technically these terms all have different nuances to their meanings, the bottom line is usually that we have to be accepting of all cultures. Celebrate diversity.
But is celebrating diversity what made this nation a great one? The study of our nation’s history (not what is currently taught in public school – but don’t get me started on that) will show that there were people of very diverse backgrounds who came to these shores in search of freedom from oppression – and that oppression came in many forms. They had to learn to work together – and the successful communities learned early on that those who didn’t work, didn’t eat. Their diversity did not hold them together – they worked for a common goal, that of survival – and survive they did, in spite of their diversity.
I’m not advocating that anyone give up their heritage or forget where they came from, I just feel strongly that when it comes to acceptance, and diversity, we should have our eyes on the things that we share in common – our humanity – and learn to truly TOLERATE our differences.