Tolerance is not acceptance


George Hasara – Columnist

“Live and let live,” is an old adage that is easy to understand and hard to disagree with. I’ve yet to speak with someone who says they don’t believe in the concept. We tolerate beliefs and peaceful behavior of others with the expectation that the same courtesy will be extended toward us. Pretty basic stuff, a variation on the theme of the golden rule. However, somewhere along the way, “tolerance” has been replaced with “acceptance,” as a prerequisite for peaceful coexistence.

While tolerance and acceptance have somewhat similar meanings, they are fundamentally different things. You don’t need to agree with or accept someone’s views in order to have a basic respect for their right to think and live as they choose. I tolerate far more than I accept. However, not accepting a certain lifestyle doesn’t mean you’re a bigot. Considering a particular belief wrong isn’t an indicator of hate. Acceptance isn’t necessary for us to get along – tolerance is.

Back in the day, in certain parts of the country, a dude with long hair could get himself beat up. He didn’t care if his appearance was accepted by everyone, he just wanted a little toleration. He didn’t whine about being “marginalized” because he lived on the edge by choice. I don’t believe hippie-phobic ever made it as a word.  

I don’t recall Afro-phobic being in the common vernacular either. The achievements of the civil rights movement were centered on correcting real and tangible injustices and combating institutional violence and intimidation. It wasn’t necessary, for instance, for everyone to be accepting of the idea of desegregated schools, but they pretty well better tolerate it. 

Today, mere toleration isn’t good enough for many people. Labels and name calling have become the norm. Lefties, righties, commies, nazis, take your pick. While currently, the pendulum of the thought police has swung more to the left, it does in time, travel both ways. More than one group has said, “you are either for us or against us.”

We have also become a nation of mind readers. After all, how else can you claim to know what someone is really thinking and what is in their heart of hearts? The mere act of supporting a particular political candidate can garner you the label of “evil.” Since calling someone evil is pretty much the top of the insult food chain, I wonder where we go from here?

The demand for acceptance of thought is ironically twisting us into an intolerant society. An antidote is not to take yourself so seriously and practice common courtesy, especially with those with whom you disagree. Another useful axiom is “mind your own business,” which makes it a heck of a lot easier to live and let live.

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