Tolerance used to be buzz word in some marginalized communities hoping to gain equality — until people started to realize that “tolerating” something or someone was not a particularly favorable stance.
You tolerate mosquitoes if you live in Iowa.
You tolerate humidity if you live in D.C.
You tolerate your neighbor’s lawn mower on Saturday morning, your neighbor’s kid’s stereo on Saturday night, and your neighbor, when he or she wants to talk to you in the front yard.
You tolerate things that are unpleasant, but that you must be forced to endure. Once we figured this out, we went for “acceptance.” It sounds a lot better, but is it really that much different?
You (eventually) accept a terminal diagnosis.
You (eventually) accept the fact that your kid is in love with someone you hate.
You (eventually) accept the fact that you got fired, laid off, dumped, or rejected.
But acceptance still has its unspoken baggage — “I accept you — in spite of your sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnic background, religion, pathetic bank account, unimpressive job, really bad hair.” Acceptance also comes with a disclaimer.
Not only that, but the whole idea of acceptance can often be accompanied by a notion of generosity and do-goodliness on the part of the acceptor, who can walk away feeling very self-satisfied that he or she was able to put prejudices aside and accept you for who you are.
This still leaves you in the subordinate position — the position of being the one who is accepted. And for this, you are supposed to be grateful.
I use “acceptance” all the time, and until there is a better word — one that really signifies an equal balance between various individuals or groups — I will probably keep using it.
But it is not un-problematic. And sometimes I would rather be honestly “tolerated” by someone who dislikes me than “accepted” by someone who’s looking to earn a merit badge.
Too cynical? Thoughts?