Currently there is a lot of public discussion about developing tolerance of others, of their different traditions, religious affiliation, skin color, sexual orientation or culinary customs, and that is a good place to begin. But tolerance is a poor substitute for acceptance! Tolerance implies that we are simply putting up with something. Acceptance, on the other hand, implies encouragement of another. But do we even care enough about others to encourage them? I suspect that acceptance of others is somewhat dependent upon how we view them in relationship to ourselves. If we mutter within ourselves “At least I look better”, “I’m not as dumb as they are”, “I would never choose that!”… then we hold ourselves in a position superior to the other. Such a stance makes acceptance very difficult, if not impossible!
I came across a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. which goes “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” To me such silence speaks more about relationships founded in tolerance than of acceptance. Because we have not been faced with major situations requiring a demonstration of our faithfulness such as the giving of a kidney or part of a liver, we might be tempted to think that we would never desert our friends! But what about the small daily ways in which we desert others? How about the appointments with them for which we fail to show? How about the times we fail to thank someone for a gift sent? How about the negative or catty way in which we speak to others about a “friend”? Like many things in life desertion can be dramatic but is most often subtle and incremental.
I was listening to NPR the other day and heard a broadcast concerning two women who lived through the war in Germany and who are still living there today. When asked by the interviewer why they chose to stay in Germany, one of the women commented that they never chose to stay but simply never got around to choosing to leave! What about the possibility of living a life without making the decisions to guide its course? When we look not only at the issue of tolerance versus acceptance but also of faithfulness to others, it might be fruitful for us to ask ourselves “Am I living on automatic? Have I ever considered that I might be unfaithful to others? Do I accept others or simply tolerate them? Do I even care about these questions?”