Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tolerance vs. Acceptance

For the longest time we have sought to ensure greater tolerance for our fellow human beings. We are told we should tolerate other races, other ethnicities, other genders, other sexual orientations, other ways of living and of thinking. And this was important once upon a time (and still is for some people), when the knee-jerk response to difference was to burn the person at the stake. When that's the natural response, then getting people to simply be willing to tolerate other people's existence is a move in the right direction.

But we should not be satisfied with tolerance.

I don't want to be tolerated. To be tolerated means to be put up with. You live over there and let me pretend you don't exist.

I want to be accepted. I want "be yourself" to be meant literally, and when I am myself, that self is appreciated. I want to be enjoyed and loved and I want people to be excited by my presence.

And so do you.

My parents always tolerated the things I (and my brother) wanted to do. They tolerated my interests, but never really encouraged any of them (and discouraged others, such as music). They tolerated my choice of what to major in in college (recombinant gene technology) when they really thought I ought to major in pre-med or pre-law to become a doctor or a lawyer. They were hardly supportive of my deciding to get a Master's in English, and even when I graduated with my Ph.D. in the humanities, my father asked me if I regretted not finishing my Master's in biology (by then he had come around to majoring in biology).

I did the things I did despite the direct lack of support. They never stood in my way, but my parents never quite supported me, either.

I get the same thing with everyone's attitude toward autism, though to be honest, it's only just barely tolerated at all. And nobody wants to understand it, let along appreciate it.

I've had a few along the way who did encourage me. Those were the people who made the difference. There was a biology/chemistry teacher in high school and a biology teacher at the Governor's Scholars Program I did one summer who both encouraged my interests in genetics. There was a poet at WKU who encouraged my poetry. I was eventually encouraged (after some pretty harsh criticism) in my fiction writing at USM. And I was encouraged in my scholarly work at UTD by my dissertation committee. I was encouraged by a theater owner when it came to my plays (too bad the theater went out of business before we could stage my first full length play). This summer my wife has been incredibly encouraging as I have had to go through six weeks of training, which included 5 weeks of  teaching summer school.

Each gave me the strength to go on.

That's the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Those who accept actively participate in our success through encouragement to be who we are. Those who tolerate simply get out of the way. Sometimes that's necessary, but isn't it much better to have a helping hand through life? It's it better to have people love you for who you deeply, truly are?
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