Tolerance Before Acceptance

Standing in a circle in our classroom, I decided to share what was written on my piece of paper. The paper had a story about how one of my classmate’s neighbors had refused to interact with their sister who had a mental disability, even going as far to exclaim, “I don’t want to catch cancer or something”.

While the story and memory above are not my own, my perception and understanding of my community and world had drastically changed in this one simple class activity.
At the beginning of the semester, my Leadership Studies professor had given our class the challenge of creating a project for the International Day of Tolerance on November 16. Created by the United Nations in 1995, Tolerance Day promotes understanding between people of different races, nations, religions, and cultures. In initially receiving this project assignment and researching the origins of Tolerance Day, I immediately began thinking, “shouldn’t we be aiming for acceptance rather than just tolerance? Acceptance of people from different backgrounds is really going to change the world!”

However, as my Leadership Studies class continued to share reflections from our experiences and thoughts on intolerance in our world, I soon began to realize that acceptance around the world will not happen until we fully achieve a sense of tolerance between all people. We will not truly be able to accept people for who they are until we get to a place where we give all people the tolerance to be themselves. I quickly forgot my dreams of people from all different races and countries working together, and just tried to envision what a tolerant world would look like.

What if Muslims didn’t have to hide their religion from others?
What if people didn’t skeptically badger multi-racial people about their heritage?
What if members of the Greek community on college campuses didn’t have to face negative stereotypes?
What if members of the LGBTQ community had equal rights as heterosexual people?

There are so many possibilities, yet there is not one definite answer to this complex challenge in the world. And while we will commemorate the International Day of Tolerance on November 16, this challenge deserves our attention and commitment throughout each and every day. Here are 3 steps you can take to create and spread tolerance throughout your communities and world.

1. Reflect — Have I ever witnessed intolerance? How did that experience make me feel? Do I hold beliefs or participate in actions that perpetuate intolerance?
2. Learn — One of the most fundamental aspects of tolerance is knowledge of other cultures and lifestyles of other people. What cultures or backgrounds am I unfamiliar with?
3. Create Dialogue — While learning can be done with books and websites, real conversations with people provide us with clearer understandings of the people around us. How will I actively educate myself on the experiences and beliefs of other people?

The stakes are just too high for so many people for us to continue living out our lives without making a dedicated effort towards increasing tolerance throughout our world. While November 16th is only one day, we have a lifetime to accomplish our wildest dreams: tolerance, acceptance, and a better world.

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Originally published at on November 16, 2014.

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